October 21, 2020: On a minor note, we’ve seen a sudden influx of Kennedy half-Dollar pieces showing up in the household over the past two weeks. The mystery was solved today; they come from the local food shop, which are giving them out as change. I got one today from them. And I saw a couple signs in another larger grocery store asking for exact change because there’s a COVID-19-inspired coin shortage. What odd times we live in.
Be well —
October 18, 2020: I am slain. Utterly defeated. I am out of my league. My neighbor’s Halloween display is just beyond anything I’m able (or willing) to do. So besides the half dozen or so home-made wooden caricatures (each about 4′ high) he has scattered across his front lawn, I glanced out my window last night to behold the 8′ high (seriously!) corn stalk man, topped with a pumpkin head (carved) accompanied by flashing colored lights simulating lightning on both sides of this thing. Then tonight as I was leaf-blowing out the garage, their family was wrapping orange blinking lights on the light post out front and the railings up to their porch.
My Halloween inventory includes two adult-sized plastic skeletons, a third (which is completely unrealistic), and a couple miniatures, a skeletal arm, a skeletal bird, and some stencils. (I thoroughly enjoyed a few years back purchasing one of the plastic skeletons when my wife told me to pick one up from a local store that was on post-Halloween sale, and I strapped it into the passenger seat of my car and left it there all night as I cruised about town running errands.) So in essence, whatever I come up with will be a pittance, but I gotta come up with something. Oddly, that skeletal bird may be the key; I’m thinking of a Poe theme.
A neighbor on the other side simply made some sheet ghosts and hung them from a tree on the corner of his property, and put some purple lights in his window. That’s more my speed.
A house much further up our hill has a very elaborate display, but he just purchased everything and displayed it on his front lawn as is. I have to have some originality in mine if I’m to have any credibility.
So we’ll see. I have to come up with something, and soon.
On other fronts, the virus seems to be raging back, with most states (including New Hampshire) seeing rising infection rates again. Luckily, we seem to be on the lower end of the scale, but it’s still happening. I’ve also got wind some companies have sensed trouble as well and have slowed or halted hiring, or are even going back into layoff mode. The long-feared second wave seems to be upon us.
Be well —
October 12, 2020: My neighbor was mowing his lawn yesterday, and he disappeared in a cloud of dust. In a Schadenfreude sort of way, this made me feel better because that’s been the case with my front lawn this entire year. But the drought has really taken a toll. I don’t care about the lawn. My maintenance routine is minimal at best. Droughts just scare me. When we lived in New Jersey a couple decades ago that state got hit with a severe drought that lasted most of the five years we lived there, and the state government was considering some extreme measures when the situation was saved by a stray hurricane that dumped 10″ of water on the state in a single day. Not hoping for that solution, but the rain from Hurricane Delta tomorrow will be welcome.
Most people wear masks nowadays, but I feel fatigue setting in, and with rising infection rates in several states this past week, I fear another major wave is coming. I, myself need to become more militant about cleaning surfaces again. Despite its previous good response, Europe is coming off the rails now and cases are spiking again. Hospitals are filling up. In a sense, I expected this to happen; the 1918 pandemic lasted from March, 1918 until December, 1919. It’s just that I irrationally hoped it wouldn’t.
The neighbors really went all out with their Halloween decorations so I’m feeling the pressure. Have to come up with something original. The kids could particularly use some fun this year.
Be well —
October 4, 2020: This weekend I cut the lawn (possibly for the last time this year) when about 2/3 of the way through, I took a break. I had a thermos filled with ice water waiting on the back steps, and made a beeline for it. I’m only sitting there a moment when I realized I was being yelled at — squawked at, actually. I looked up and a flock of turkeys had congregated about 20 feet from me, and were indignantly upbraiding me about something. My yard is on a path through the woods behind the house, and so turkeys and deer frequently pass through. Was I holding up their progress by cutting the lawn? I wonder if they were waiting in the woods while I was cutting, and only came out when they thought the coast was clear, but then got all riled up when they saw me sitting on the steps. In any event, we exchanged some unpleasantries and they continued on their way to my front yard, and beyond to I do not know where. My wife was working in the garage at the time and I tried to call her to alert her to the pilgrims, but she didn’t have her phone nearby. We had our neighbors over today, and they mentioned their dogs chased a flock of turkeys about the same time — 5.00 p.m.-ish — through their back yard. It was funny how upset they (the turkeys) were with me.
Things seem to be sliding back into lockdown mode. Now that the President has been confirmed as having COVID-19, a real fear seems to be gripping the country, and as infection numbers continue to rise in some states, despite resistance the reality is that some places need to remain closed. I was speaking with a friend about how restaurants, music venues and similar places will survive the winter. This is going to be tough.
Be well —
September 29, 2020: My neighbor has this amazing maple tree at the end of his driveway which is fairly inconspicuous most of the year, but its leaves turn the brightest red each fall — almost a neon red. When you come up our hill it is suddenly upon you, and on a sunny day it absolutely glows. I want to ask for a snippet from this tree to hopefully plant in my yard.
That said, while the colors are subdued in comparison to that maple, my backyard is becoming a wonderful palette as well. It is mostly yellows and soft oranges, and around 4.00-5.00 p.m. each evening now, it also takes on this other-worldly golden glow when the sun hits the yard just right.
The kids must be back in school. Each weekday afternoon around 3.00-ish, I notice a line of the orange school buses going down the street. I am not sure what the arrangements are, whether kids go only a few days each so that there’s enough room to socially distance. It is hard to believe because today it was about 80 degrees and humid, but winter is indeed coming and the kids will have to be crammed indoors with the windows closed. That’s just life in New England. Well, for whatever they’re doing, the local news reports most new outbreaks seem to be tied to colleges and not schools.
I belatedly realized that the shortage of sanitizing wipes and paper towels we are experiencing once again (after a respite over the summer) was likely due to schools reopening, and the need to constantly be cleaning surfaces. Meh — shower ’em down with DDT. Kids are little disease-carrying microbe incubators.
Be well —
September 20, 2020: Contemplated firing up the pellet stove tonight, with nighttime temperatures dipping into the 30s. I resisted because, well, expense, but the moment I hear the furnace kick on down in the basement, the stove is being lit. That said, it’s still pleasantly in the 60s during the day. I’m only seeing a little smattering of leaves turning here and there, with little hints of red and yellows. Truth is, with the drought I doubt there’ll be much in the way of dramatic foliage this fall. Some of our trees are quite frankly tinged brown, with dried, curled leaves. 2020 has kinda sucked for most of us. That hasn’t stopped the waves of leaf-peepers though; Route 93 northbound is a parking lot on Fridays and Saturday mornings, and the same for the southbound lane on Sundays. Well, I suppose people just need to get out of the house, and dead leaves are as good an excuse as any.
I got annoyed with Husqvarna today. Actually, I find I often am annoyed with Husqvarna when I use their equipment — but that’s a longer story. In the more immediate sense, I figured my summer-long procrastination of getting the snowblower ready for a new season had stretched on long enough, and so I went to change the oil on the snowblower I bought just before last winter. It worked great last year. But I decided to look online and watch a video before committing to the deed to see if there was anything unusual about how a Husqvarna machine goes through this procedure, but nope — pretty straight forward. So outside I go, only to discover my machine has a completely different configuration than what I watched in the video, though I was careful about making sure I got the model right. I knew where the oil pan was but couldn’t find the drain for the life of me, so back online I went, and discovered in a forum that the oil plug is beneath the oil pan, on the side, over the wheel, flush with the pan. (Back to the garage I went to confirm this.) Seriously, Husqvarna — is it that you hate your customers? I suspect some product engineers don’t actually use the crap they design. Anyway, on this forum one person helpfully suggested bending some cardboard and using it as a conduit to drain the oil out. Someone else posted a link to an after-market hose made exactly for this problem, and I ordered one. To be continued.
I read on the local news site that restaurants expect to take a hit now that outdoor dining is becoming less attractive, with cooler weather moving in. I know the governor has allowed indoor dining (albeit with reduced capacity), but I wonder if people are reluctant to get so close to others yet? While out running weekend errands yesterday I stopped in a place (new to us) and ordered some sandwiches for us for lunch, and noticed their fairly spacious dining room was still closed off, and they were operating strictly on a take-out basis. Not sure how widespread that is.
It seems Europe is in the throes of a second wave, and they are struggling with the same social tensions we are. We are living through scary times.
Be well —
September 15, 2020: My sister is a teacher in the Southwest, and reported some grim tidings. Poverty is a far bigger problem there than here, and the school situation is really having an impact on kids there. My sister’s school provides bagged day meals (breakfast-lunch-dinner) for students each day, to be picked up at the school, and also provides a bag for infant sibling — though not for adults. But this is only on school days, so she knows some kids are not eating anything on weekends. On holidays, that involuntary fasting stretches longer. She also reports that attendance was always a problem because poorer parents would often enlist their 5th or 6th grader to watch younger siblings while Mom and Dad go to work, but that the COVID-19 restrictions have made this worse as parents scrounge for income. Keeping kids engaged via Zoom is also difficult, but she says she finds herself spending a lot of time off school hours engaging with kids (5th and 6th graders) who are struggling with the emotional side effects of the COVID-19 crisis and are also dealing with the issues of being denied a social life with their peers, while also being left alone more by their parents. Finally, she struggles with parents who themselves were raised in poverty and who only see value in activities that directly translate into income, and who therefore see school as something that gets in the way of kids being able to contribute money to the family. They don’t make the connection between education and opportunity later in life — indeed, don’t spend any time thinking about the future, only dwelling on the necessities of the present. She sees an already deeply challenged group becoming a truly lost generation because of COVID-19, and she shutters to think of the consequences for them and the country in the years ahead.
COVID-19 is a special event, and nobody knows how we will emerge from this, but issues like poverty and education are solvable — if only we had the will. We certainly have, like no other country, the resources.
Be well —
September 13, 2020: I hate September 11. I hate what it stands for, at least in my mind — for the mindless cruelty we humans are capable of sinking to in the name of our tribe. I suppose that may be why I have such a strong, visceral reaction against people like Trump who can’t see past their own tribe, like ignorant peasants unable to comprehend the larger world. Each year, I hunker down and try to keep my head down low, avoiding public spaces (like Facebook) on the anniversary. I can’t take the memorials and documentaries. They are well-intended, I know, but quite frankly they just bring back too many ghosts. My wife has been to the memorial in New York, but I can’t go.
I was in Poland when it happened, visiting family. Among a host of family visits and duties, we had to move my sisters-in-law up to their college apartment in the north. I had never been to that city, and an old friend lived there, so I was granted reprieve from apartment cleaning duty to meet up and be shown around. I had gone into an internet cafe — ask Grandpa what that was — but the connection was horrible and I could just barely connect to my U.S. email account, and it kept timing out. I gave up when it was time to meet Monika, 2.30 p.m. local time — I know because a week later when I could access my email again, I found emails from friends and colleagues that arrived just minutes after I closed out (which was 8.30 a.m. New York time) announcing — no, screaming — what was happening. Monika told me that some plane had crashed into a tall building — the Empire State Building, maybe? — in New York. I’d overheard someone chatting about that as I’d left the cafe.
Rewind a week and a half earlier, and I was in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. I was head of our company’s North American data research department, and I was accompanying a sales guy on a client call. We had bounced all over Manhattan that day, and in fact earlier in the day we had been through the World Trade Center plaza and been accosted by Mike Bloomberg’s mayoral election team, who gave us a speech and a free Bloomberg radio (which I still have). I had never been up in the World Trade Center; I’d been through its base a gazillion times on the PATH train from New Jersey (where I lived), and had sauntered through the mini-mall down there with upscale shops. But this day was my first day going up in the towers. I didn’t realize I was supposed to bring special ID, but luckily I had some. (The salesman looked at me like a rural hick while I was fumbling for some ID, clearly unprepared.) In fact, I hadn’t anticipated the tight security, though I should have. My thought at the time was that all the security they were subjecting us to wouldn’t have done anything to stop the bombers who had tried to blow the towers up in 1993, and in my security card photo issued by the security desk, I am barely suppressing a laugh as they snapped my picture. (At that stage, the salesman was ready to murder me.)
So we got through security and went up to the 52nd floor to visit a start-up company, one of the early online trading networks, who were a client of ours. Their head of operations, an Australian guy, met us and took us through the office to their conference room. As we made our way through, I saw rows of mini-cubicles, each one housing at least two monitors with rivers of data flowing on them, and each one manned — so to speak – by an extremely attractive young person (both females and males), most listening to the latest, hippest tunes on expensive CD walkmans. (It was 2001.) I became acutely aware that I was already an old fogie, and that each of these young people probably made a lot more than my salary. In any event, we got to the conference room which had windows on all sides, and the discussion started. It was friendly. My job was to describe our research methodology and answer any questions, and clients typically appreciated such direct access to the analysts. This guy was no exception, and my sales guy began to calm down a bit and harbor fewer murder fantasies about me as this company’s ops guy was clearly pleased with our discussion. There came a point where the sales guy took over the conversation and I could focus elsewhere, namely the dozens and dozens of helicopters and small planes buzzing by the window. We were only on the 52nd floor, but there was an entire new dimension of New York I’d never seen before, this huge volume of tourist air traffic apparently constantly flying overhead. I was amazed by this, and thought of an event during World War II where a B-25 bomber being ferried by a lone pilot to some airfield crashed into the Empire State Building. I wondered if that had ever happened since, with all this air traffic.
Fast forward a week and a half to me standing next to Monika in Poland, and when she told me a plane had crashed into some building in New York, my thought was — it finally happened! I assumed it was one of those tourist planes. We spent the next few hours touring her home city, and then we reported to my sister-in-laws’ apartment, where we heard the full news. They had a small black & white TV on, and the Polish TV station was just replaying CNN with someone in the studio with shaky English trying to keep up with translating from English to Polish. The family was in dinner-making mode by that point so I was moving constantly between the kitchen and the living room, catching glimpses of what was happening on the little 9″ screen TV each time I passed by. At one point my wife announced the towers had collapsed but I dismissed this. The translator was, quite frankly, near-hysterical, almost shouting her translation, and I thought she was a bit over-the-top, and exaggerating things. I described for family members what had happened in 1993, how the bombers then thought it would just fall as well — but then I saw the images for myself. They had fallen. I can’t really describe the sickening feeling as I watched that happen, like something was compressed and collapsing in me just like the towers. This was 6.00 or 7.00 p.m. local time, noon or 1.00 p.m. New York time, hours after the worst had happened, but it was new to us. Some girl, a distant relative I’d just met, ran screaming up and down the apartment building stairway until someone calmed her down. (Admittedly, I wanted to punch her lights out.)
I didn’t sleep that night. I had a copy of David McCullough’s biography of John Adams with me, and I spent the night reading that, and the next several nights as well. When I tried to sleep, my mind kept wandering that office, seeing all those beautiful young people. Months later in November I would learn that everyone made it out of that office alive, but for the week or so after September 11, I didn’t know that and I had to fight to occupy my mind so it wouldn’t go back there. For a couple months after September 11 because offices were destroyed, servers were destroyed, records were destroyed, and even for those offices elsewhere in Manhattan far from the towers, access to the city was restricted — all of us in businesses like financial services heavily focused on New York spent months afterward trying to track down friends, former colleagues, contacts, clients, people we’d spoken with casually at events or in meetings, trying to find out who was OK, and who wasn’t. In fact, I would still be finding out about people years after September 11, including most recently just a couple years ago when an old colleague and I reconnected, and I learned he’d been working in one of the towers at the time, and had to do that infamous sprint we all saw on the news, of ash-covered people running for their lives up side streets, anywhere away from the towers. For I don’t remember how long afterward, people in our office would just break down crying. It just happened. Everyone knew someone who had died or lost someone.
Poles really took 9/11 to heart, and I was touched by the genuine sympathy and anger people expressed. On a few occasions it came out I was an American in some public place (like a gas station, at one point), and people were effusive with their sympathy. Some of it was a bit over the top like an anti-Arab diatribe one guy launched into, but overall, the feeling was of a shared tragedy.
September 11 was a Tuesday, and I had tickets to fly home the following Saturday. My wife was staying another week. I assumed the flight would be cancelled, but the airline (SAS, I think) told me to show up; nobody knew what was going to happen. They flew me to Copenhagen, where we were subjected to what then seemed like extreme security measures. I held things up because my wife had sent me home with a couple bags of Polish glass ornaments (27 ornaments total), and Danish security had to go through every single bauble, unscrewing the metal clasp on top of each ornament and inspecting them closely. We boarded the plane and waited on the runway, and finally the captain declared the United States had granted us permission to enter, and so off we went. Landing in Newark Airport was uneventful, though I noted the National Guard patrolled the place in full combat gear.
The next day, Sunday, I went for a walk around the small town we lived in in New Jersey, and came upon tow trucks removing cars from the parking lot of the local train station, which had a line into Penn Station. Someone remarked to me that these were the cars of people who were not coming back. I also don’t remember for how long afterward — weeks? months? a year? — you could see the pall of smoke and dust rising from where the towers had been on the horizon.
So that’s it. Not a very dramatic story. Indeed, just one more of millions of Americans’ stories about 9/11. But that day really haunts me, not because of my closeness to the towers or the events — again, millions of people used the PATH trains, and if you were in the corporate world in the New York area, you almost assuredly dealt with the towers back then. In fact, I stood out as a bit of a newbie by my age in not having been up in the towers yet. Our sales guy was incredulous when I said this was my first time. But just knowing so many people who were affected, and being surrounded by so many people who had extensive ties to people lost that day, and how that changed their lives; it’s an ugliness I hate to contemplate. Again, I see 9/11 as the epitome of the worst we humans are capable of. Yes, it brought out the best in a lot of people and we are right to celebrate them, and thank the gods for people like them, but, but, but, I can’t get past the original horror.
Be well, and be kind —
September 9, 2020: Tonight our writing group debated whether to return to Marion Gerrish yet or not. The nays seem to have won, for now. I think caution is the best strategy at this stage, especially given how many of us in this group are either in risky categories or are connected to people who are.
I’m proud that we’ve stuck together as a group, for the most part. True, there was a time back in the day when we considered splitting into subgroups because our then-burgeoning numbers made it difficult for us to fit into a single venue anymore. But the core has stuck together, and continues to do useful work, and really support one another as writers. Once, years back during a snow storm we attempted to do an online meeting but only three of us showed up, so I was nervous when we had to improvise as the COVID-19 crisis broke — but we adapted.
Manufacturing shortages are starting to become more apparent across the spectrum of products. I mention the ones I see in the supermarkets each week, but I am currently also trying to have some work done to a gun, and the smith is having trouble sourcing some parts. I went shooting last weekend and the store’s ammo shelves looked ransacked. Friends have told me about a growing shortage of some of the most commonly available ammunition. I suspect as the virus makes its way now through “red” states (where a lot of gun-related manufacturing takes place), these shortages will continue.
My work will be holding a team-wide online event later this fall, in place of our normal face-to-face meeting in New York. Business conferences and events scheduled for next summer are already being cancelled, and/or recreated as virtual events.
The squirrels are in nut-collecting mode in the yard, randomly burying them all over the place. Cycle of life.
Be well —
September 2, 2020: Apparently fall is here. I’ve heard geese flying overhead in formation, heading due south. Also, very oddly, for the past several days when I go out into the front yard, I’ve consistently seen bright red maple leaves, usually two or three, laying around on the driveway or walkway, clearly blown in from somewhere — but I don’t know where from. None of my trees are even beginning to turn yet, and as I scan the neighborhood I can’t see any that are. Are the neighborhood kids screwing with me?
Last week while food shopping I noticed they had Halloween candy displays out already. Seriously. My first thought is I want to go all-out this year decorating the house, but I wonder — will there be trick-or-treating this year? Man, what weird times we live in.
Speaking of which, I am noticing more shortages, or at least inventory problems when I go shopping, more so than just a month ago. I suppose this is natural; as food and product plants have been forced to shut down or operate at reduced capacity, and as transportation also takes some scheduling hits, sooner or later we would see the shortfalls in stores. Nothing too serious, more in the annoying stage at this point. Still, it is difficult to plan for the week when you go to the store and can’t count on a reliable supply of any particular item. Given that about a thousand people are still dying every day by COVID 19 in this country, my whining will be kept to a minimum. I’ll shut up and adjust. The stores try to paper this over by stacking shelves with whatever they do have, so for instance in the large section in the chemicals aisle where they used to have hand sanitizers and sanitizer wipes, they now have toilet paper. (Note the irony, given the toilet paper shortages back in March and April.)
Another sign it is fall: I wake up in the mornings recently completely refreshed. The past week has reminded me just how poorly I sleep in the summer, with its warm and humid nights. Give me a couple cool, dry nights and I’m slumbering like the proverbial baby, and feel great when I wake up, not groggy and disoriented. I am a Northern boy, built for the cold.
Be (and sleep) well —
August 30, 2020: I got reprimanded by an older guy in Shaw’s this week for going the wrong way in an aisle. Actually, I’d entered the correct way (following the arrows painted on the floor) but about mid-way, realized they didn’t have what I wanted and just came back the way I’d entered. I explained this to the guy but he was not impressed, and told me I was still going the wrong way. Quite frankly I wasn’t sure if those rules were still in place, given how much of the other March and April rules stores enacted had since either been rolled back or loosened. But in the end, while he annoyed the heck out of me, I must admit he was right. Dammit.
One of my favorite restaurants has finally announced they’ll be reopening in a few weeks, in September. I should clarify that strictly speaking, they are not my favorite restaurant, and in truth, most of their food is borderline awful. (We made the mistake of eating dinner there once.) BUT they make a great Italian sub sandwich, loaded with meats and veggies, which I treat myself to once a week. They are a local establishment, one of those small town places all the locals remember. I suspect in recent years they have been making most of their revenues from the bar, rather than the restaurant — and only recently did our governor green light indoor seating.
Last week it was in the low 90s and humid, but then some storms came through, and whammo — it’s fall. Dry and in the 70s during the day, and tonight it’ll dip into the 40s. One of my maples in the backyard is already changing. Mowed the lawn this evening, and barely broke a sweat.
Be well —
August 25, 2020: For the second time in a couple weeks, one of our group fell ill. (No, not from COVID-19.) I think we should all get booster shots.
Finally got some needed rain this past couple days. Not nearly enough, but we’ll take what we can get for now. It was fun having a couple thunderstorms boil on through. The downside is I’ll definitely have to mow the lawn this weekend.
Laconia Bike Week is apparently underway so the roads are filled with bikers — the usual; out-of-staters who are thrilled about not having to wear helmets for the first time. I await the usual accidents reports on WMUR. And word is they don’t like to wear masks either. Well, we’ll see.
As a colleague and I struggle with a looming deadline, she recommended to me a book on writing: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I’ll pick it up. She says Lamott coaches you to just get something, anything down on paper. That gives you something to work with. (My friend is suffering from writers’ block, which prompted our conversation this afternoon.)
She also brought up an interesting point, which is that as many companies may learn to adjust to a remote workforce, yet more expense is being pushed on workers as they have to now absorb the costs of what had been company office overhead: the office itself, utilities, computers, internet connection, other equipment like cameras for conference calls, and extra security software. In effect employees have to pay to work for a company by ponying up for all these services and equipment. Employment becomes more and more untenable.
Be well —
August 18, 2020: The kitchen sink is in a corner, and faces two windows looking out on the back yard and the treeline with our neighbor. But you can also look out across the Merrimack River valley. While doing dishes I’ve watched storms rolling in from the west. The thunder echoes when it gets to the valley over the river. I’ve come to rely on checking those windows for incoming rain, rather than WMUR.
Tonight I was doing dishes, looking hopefully for rain, when I was reminded of the woodchucks. They’d dug a hole right along my foundation (right below my kitchen windows, in fact). Action was required. Friends recommended a Havahart cage, and I was going to get one. I swear. But my neighbor and I were discussing the issue (since the woodchucks also cleaned out his lettuce), and he said they ignored his cages. That convinced me that perhaps a more…permanent solution was required. I sighted in my old .22, but had misgivings about using that in the backyard, not wanting to scare the neighbors. I talked it over with the lettuce-less neighbor and he was on board (“Just please don’t let the wife see it”), but I was hesitant about the neighbor on the other side. In the end I decided to buy an airgun, and so ordered one. It arrived after about a week — and we haven’t seen a single woodchuck since. Really. Not a one. My father quips that they must have got wind of Plan B.
At one point early in the woodchuck crisis, after reading online I bought a box of mothballs and poured the whole thing down their hole. That was supposed to drive them out, but one day I looked out the window to see one woodchuck staring at me from the hole entrance, literally standing on top of the pile of mothballs, apparently unfazed.
In any event, they are gone, for weeks now. And what remains, as I do dishes each evening, is the smell of mothballs wafting up from their hole that nearly makes my eyes water.
On another front, I came into my home office yesterday and my cat was laying on the open window sill, looking at me with a relaxed, content expression. But as I peered past him into the yard, I saw a flock of turkeys quietly trotting by, maybe a dozen or so, all eyeing me very warily. And my cat was utterly oblivious to all this.
Be well —
August 16, 2020: A couple days ago I stopped at a local Walmart, and found they’ve reinstated the strict controls they had back in March, but which had since been relaxed: everyone must wear a mask, only one entrance to the store is open and it is monitored by staff, only a certain number of people are allowed in the store at a time, and 6 feet distancing is strictly enforced. I don’t see New Hampshire infection or death numbers rising, but they certainly still are in California, Texas and Florida. I’ll admit I was non-plussed when I saw the new (old) restrictions at Walmart, but upon reflection, I’m glad they’re back. I’ve noticed how relaxed things have been becoming in stores. Everyone wants to get back to normal, I get it — but going too soon will just drag this whole thing out.
Individual towns across the state are beginning to mandate masks be worn outdoors now as well. I’ve turned off the feeds from so many friends on FB because of the rightwing ranting. I’ve been reading so many books recently by Republican authors about how they created this monster, this electorate that really believes it can vote on reality, and doesn’t have to accept any facts that contradict what they want to be true. We live in bizarre times.
At least, after another hot week in the 90s with high humidity, it is cool and pleasantly dry tonight.
Be well —
August 12, 2020: We have a wood pellet stove which is probably the most popular appliance in the house in winter. The cat drapes himself around it, and we’re not far behind. But one consequence of having a pellet stove is the need to continuously feed it small wooden pellets, and it’s cheaper to buy those in bulk. And so we make room each summer in our garage for two large one-ton pallets of wood pellets. After a while, you start piling up the wooden pallets, and while the first few are actually pretty useful, after a while they just start piling up and getting in the way. And so I made a few available for free on FB.
The response has been YOOGE. I took the ad down after just a day, but am still getting inquiries almost a week later. Some woman was the first to respond so she got the pallets. She showed up and picked up a couple, but left one. She contacted me later that night saying she just couldn’t fit the last one in her car, and would be back. That was a few days ago, and I poked her again tonight to see if she intended to pick up the last pallet, or should I reach out to one of the others who responded. She responded with an apology, saying one of her coworkers has come down with COVID-19 and she is now working double-time. She still wants the pallet, and would pick it up tomorrow, but for safety’s sake I can’t come out of my house.
My goal is to get rid of this pallet, so I’m fine with this arrangement, but it’s a statement about 2020.
Be well —
August 10, 2020: When entering my town from the south, you cross the river and then ascend a hill. Atop the hill, you are within town limits. (A sign informs you of this fact.) Right about there, after passing an old, dilapidated small engine repair place on the left, there’s an inconspicuous white house, probably early 20th century vintage. I probably would never have noticed that house, except for a couple things. Some months back, possibly late last year, actually — long before the whole COVID-19 thing — some moron decided to smoke in his car while transporting a couple oxygen tanks, and his adventure ended abruptly in front of that house. (He survived, walked away, in fact, though his car was literally leveled.) The other is more pleasant, as the family living there spray painted a simple wooden sign and erected it on the corner of their yard when the COVID-19 crisis began, outside a wooden fence facing the road as folks entered town. It reads simply, “Stay strong.” I saw it again this week as I drove by. What a nice gesture.
This heat and humidity are killing me. OK, I am whining; I admit it. But I can’t wait until winter.
Another COVID-19 era challenge presented itself this past week when I was in Staples. The good news is that everyone was wearing a mask and social distancing. The problem arose when a cashier suddenly had to sneeze and, facing a line of customers but confined within a small space herself, she had no good options. She sneezed into her mask, apologised to customers, then valiantly soldiered on. What else could she do? If nobody had been around, maybe sneezing into her elbow would have been an option, but even though we were all six feet apart, she was basically surrounded by people. It was an unpleasant decision, but she did the right thing. Hope she had a spare mask.
Be well —
August 5, 2020: And then four became three. That’s how my brother-in-law described their situation. My nephew is on everybody’s minds again because his birthday is coming up. I don’t know how my sister- and brother-in-law get out of bed every day. But they are seemingly doing just that. We spent Saturday morning at their place, playing with my niece. My wife has told me there are days when her sister just collapses — I understand that, completely. The fact that she gets up again is amazing to me.
My wife’s best friend is in forced isolation. Last Friday her company decided brilliantly to hold a mandatory meeting of about a dozen people with no masks in a very small room, so that people were shoulder-to-shoulder for a couple hours, and then on Monday it turned out one of the people in that meeting tested positively for COVID-19. She (my wife’s friend) is furious. First, she can’t see her beloved infant granddaughter for at least two weeks now. (She usually babysits her weekday evenings.) But almost as bad, her company may insist she and her coworkers all stay home for two weeks or more — without pay. So one of their senior managers pulls a stupid move, and the workers get double-slammed by both potentially being exposed to a deadly disease, as well as losing two weeks’ pay for all the trouble. Luckily, she is doing fine financially but some of her coworkers may not, and they’re getting punished for the company’s stupidity. Scott Adams was right; why is it always the morons in charge?
After a string of hot, humid days (including a major Caribbean tropical storm), tonight it is blissfully dry and cool, in the mid-50s. The window is open, a gentle breeze is caressing my peach fuzz on top, the peeper frogs are screaming for dates outside, an owl just hooted somewhere off in the woods… Life is good. I do enjoy summer, even some of the hot, humid days — but I need a break. I need cool. Tonight is cool. I look forward to cold.
Be well —
July 31, 3030: The mask-is-mandatory thing is spreading as more shops feel emboldened to demand customers wear masks. This is a good thing, but also indicative of fear. The news from elsewhere around the country is still horrific with Texas, Florida and Arizona each suffering record new levels of COVID-19 deaths almost every day this week. Here in New Hampshire the COVID-19 death rate seems to be at about 4-6 per week, with most of those still deriving from nursing homes. And the local news today says state officials are trying to track people down who ate at a very popular local steak place in Raymond, NH, The Tuckaway Tavern, because someone now known to be COVID-19 positive came into contact with the place.
In speaking to an elderly relative in North Carolina this week, she mentioned she had an acquaintance who recently died of COVID-19.
I’m in a period at work of intensive conference calls, but because everyone’s working from home now we’re obviously using Zoom or Webex or Google Hangouts, with the upshot being I am seeing how people I’ve known for years (virtually) look. These are colleagues, clients, and a wide range of professionals at companies in markets we research. I’m seeing them in casual clothes as well as getting a glimpse into their homes and home lives, including pets. Cats invading desks during meetings has become a common thing. (Milo, my resident feline, has obliged.)
The weather is mercifully drier recently, and a bit cooler at night. We’re supposed to get Hurricane (by the time it arrives here, Tropical Storm) Isaias in a few days, which I’m looking forward to — lotsa rain. We’ll take it. This summer has been too dry. However, I’ll have to do a review of storm drains and gutters this weekend.
Be well —
July 28, 2020: I admit to indulging in some Schadenfreude occasionally, but what the country is going through is just brutal. I recall a rightwing acquaintance some months back opining that New York city was suffering so much because of the state’s Democratic governor, but now that Red state America is bearing the brunt of the suffering, he is silent. I am hearing sorrowful stories out of Florida and Texas — and yet some still insist this is all a hoax. Amazing. Numbers seem to be steady here in New Hampshire, but I notice some nervousness creeping in as horrible news from other states filters in. Several shops like our local corner food store had, for months, a friendly request posted in the front window that patrons please consider wearing a mask and be considerate and maintain 6 feet social distancing; now, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I dropped in to grab a couple things a few days ago and there’s a sandwich board almost blocking the main entrance with the notice that from now on all patrons must wear masks and keep 6 feet distance from workers and each other. Good. Online I still hear grumbling from rightwing friends about commie masks, but so long as they wear them — they can believe whatever they want. One tried to strike a defiant tone by showing off a mask she’d purchased with an American eagle on front. Bravo! Just keep wearing it, please.
David Brooks’ column this week in the NY Times addresses “cancel culture” on both the political left and right, and he includes a video of himself wondering aloud about how modern American conservatism has drifted. He makes the point that a strain of the American right that wasn’t really conservative (though they love that label) but was more anti-leftist: it sees leftists as evil disrupters who have sullied the Garden of Eden (i.e., the U.S.), and he notes that Trump represents the spear point of that strain of rightwingers, who reject facts for emotion and invest more into hating the left than really being for anything on the right. These people now own the right wing of American politics, Brooks posits, and he wonders himself where someone like him fits in anymore — a guy who values Edmund Burke’s analysis of conservatism. I feel the same, like American politics is stuck using the terminology of the past when in reality we have completely left that world behind. Our economy, our society is totally different, and so are the problems we face today, and yet our hyper-vitriolic political rhetoric is still talking about industrial jobs and communism. Like Brooks, I don’t fit anywhere. I will likely vote Democrat because the Republican party has gone ape-sh** crazy, but long for someone with a brain in politics. When I list in my mind all the top issues I think we’re facing, I don’t see anybody talking about them. From the Democrats we get talk like it’s 1975, and from the Republicans, like it’s 1935, with occasional forays into 1855.
Be well, and hang in there —
July 24, 2020: Oddly, as the economy plummets further, my job situation seems to be improving. The powers that be seem to have decided I and my colleague can actually generate revenue, and so they’ve let us loose to do exactly that. It’s going to be a busy summer, but gladly, an employed one.
I noticed when food shopping this week that people seem less concerned about touching stuff. And I notice this in myself as well. There have been reports that COVID-19 is much less transferable on surfaces than previously thought, that it is much more reliant on air (breath) transmission. Just a couple months ago everyone wore gloves while shopping. It was mandatory at MarketBasket, for instance. They still have a stockboy spraying and cleaning the handles of carts as you enter the store, but aside from that, it’s tactile city in there. I used to be very conscious of everything I touched, trying to minimize contact with products both for my own sake and everyone else’s. But now I find myself picking up things and reading labels, occasionally putting them back like I did before the crisis. Mind you, I have a hand sanitizer in my car and every time I get in after being in some store, I splurp some in my hands and scrub them vigorously, then use the excess to clean off the part of the door handle and the steering wheel I may have touched. I’ve actually had that plastic bottle of hand sanitizer in my car for years because my wife is a germophobe, but have only recently started actually using it.
Despite my earlier fears about a relapse, it seems my fellow Granite Staters are largely heeding rules, wearing masks and social distancing.
One odd but predictable change since this whole COVID-19 thing started is the dramatic slowing of the importation of products from China. Part of that is due to the idiotic trade war we’re waging, but the virus is also apparently holding things up. So we’ve ordered a couple things, clothes and shoes-type stuff, and each one took more than a month to arrive. We would get emails saying the stuff was still sitting on a dock in San Diego. This is a concern because my laptop is giving indications that its natural life on this plane may be coming to an end. And those things are mostly made in China. Stay tuned.
Be well —
July 20, 2020: Final day of a heat wave, with temperatures and humidity both in the 90s. I’ve spent the last few days constantly sticky and in various degrees of moist. Tomorrow is supposed to bring some relief. I was probably pushing the envelope a bit when I tried to order wood pellets for the winter earlier this week. Seriously, is it fall yet? I am not built for this heat.
We spent tonight trying to see Comet Neowise outside, searching in vain around the Big Dipper. The problem is that north for us points directly toward the lights of Concord, which obliterate most stars (and comets). My wife got me a nice telescope when we first got married and I’ve only used it once. Tonight I resolved to reassemble it and start using it. When I was a kid in the Alleghenies, the night sky was utterly star-filled, and you could see the Milky Way. We used to lay on the hood of my father’s truck and count shooting stars.
A lady bug has fallen in love with my monitor (it’s night now), and keeps bouncing off it. This is driving my cat nuts, though he’s too lazy to actually attack her (him?). I’ll probably end up capturing her and tossing her out the back window.
More and more businesses here are requiring masks — a good sign.
Be well —
July 17, 2020: Just one freakin’ day after I take the car to a car wash, and some bird nails me. And it was when I was moving, because the grayish-white streak on my window is horizontal.
One advantage of a global economic collapse is that interest rates are in the basement, and that provides an opportunity for refinancing one’s mortgage. We got the ball rolling a month or so ago, and have been going through the usual bureaucratic hoops, but yesterday we finally got to signing day. This is the third time I’ve been through this, and each time I am baffled by the sheer volume of paperwork. And this time we only had to do half the usual paperwork, because we weren’t selling anything, just buying (again). The COVID-19 twist on all this was that unlike the prior occasions, we did not go to the title company; instead, they came to us. The deal was they would meet us in our driveway and we would do the mass-signing there, but since we had an outdoor porch in the back complete with table and chairs, they agreed to hike around back there. We wore masks and they wore masks, and the table kept us each about 6 feet apart. It took about a half hour. All in all, a bureaucratic experience, but as bureaucratic experiences go, not horrible. And life is now slightly cheaper!
Also had a plumber in today for a minor but annoying bathtub issue, which turned out to be more easily resolved than I thought. But he wore a full M95 mask the whole time.
Be well —
July 15, 2020: It appears my favorite sandwich place may not survive. They were supposed to open today, but they will remain closed. With the new rules for restaurants, they can’t seem to make the economics work. Truth is, I suspect most of their revenues come from their bar, which astoundingly has (had) middle aged guys sitting at it all day long, throughout the week. So the restaurant side was only a minor player in terms of income, and when even that was reduced to only about 50%, allowed outside, then I think the numbers just aren’t there for them.
Ever since I was diagnosed with diabetes a couple years back I meet with my doctor 2x per year, and also meet with a nutritionist. She has helped keep me on track with the right diet, though more through information that cajoling. She’s quite happy with my progress. My doctor managed to scare the hell out of me when I was diagnosed, so I do what I’m told. In any event, I got notice earlier this week I had an upcoming appointment with Sue, the nutritionist. Since I usually schedule these after my regular doctor appointments, and since COVID-19 has led to 3x postponements of those appointments with the doctor (so far this year), I assumed she wouldn’t want to see me yet. So when I got the text notice, I chose “2” for “Reschedule.” But a day later I got a call from the clinic saying that she would be calling me at x time. I sensed some desperation, and that indeed was the case, methinks. She told me that her clinic downsized nearly everyone in her building, and her hours were reduced, and now she only works by phone. The new term is “telemedicine.” So she called and we talked over my progress (she’s still happy), and she followed up with an email with all sorts of related resources and recipes. I like her and appreciate how she’s helped me turn my health around, so I hope she makes it. She is passionate about what she does, and really works with her patients. She is close to retirement but trying her best to remain relevant in a changing world. And she doesn’t think this will ever completely go away — this is how we live now.
Be well —
July 14, 2020: In retrospect, when your wife tells you to put on sun screen while you’re mowing the lawn, you probably ought to at least consider it. In my defense, I was wearing a ridiculous plastic-straw hat I once bought at the Brimfield Flea Market a couple years back when we were walking around baking our brains in the sun. But, that hat’s brims are minimal, and do not protect one’s neck and exposed shoulders. As it turns out.
A former game show host tweeted some idiot conspiracy theory about the COVID-19 being a CDC hoax, and he directly accused doctors — yes, your general practitioner — of lying to support the CDC. I know this kind of stupidity existed in 1918, but it is shocking to see just how disconnected from reality some people are. Seriously, it feels like the Scopes Monkey Trial people have risen from the grave to drag us back to the Middle Ages.
That said, despite my own complaints, I notice that some people are taking masks more seriously. Not as many as I wish did so, but a sizable number.
Be well —
July 12, 2020: A tropical storm that bounced up the U.S. coast from the Caribbean over the weekend reportedly — word chosen carefully there — led to the canceling of a presidential rally to be held in Portsmouth. However, a friend conspiratorially asserted the real reason was simply lack of local interest, so that “Agent Orange” (as she’s dubbed the president) declined to be seen in front of an anemic crowd so soon after the Tulsa fiasco. Say, conspiracy theories are fun. I should start my own television network.
This actually was a relief, not just for political reasons, but because quite frankly the thought of crowds of defiantly mask-less people congregating at some rally and shouting a lot in close proximity, then disbursing to their home communities across New Hampshire really did not thrill me. As the rest of the country is struggling with huge new cases and death rates, I am happy to keep this state off COVID-19’s radar, thank you.
My wife went for a walk recently and came upon a local elementary school. It was closed, as all schools are closed across the state (and country) currently. However, this one wasn’t just closed but sealed off with yellow crime scene tape. On one of the doors was a large sign warning: ASBESTOS. First of all, in this sense COVID-19 is actually a savior, keeping kids out of this school for a couple months now. And worse, this past year was the first of a plan consolidating several schools into this one building, so that from November until January the district had contractors feverishly making new accommodations for the big influx of new students to this school. They even built a couple temporary modular offices outside in the parking lot for administration. And in fact this had led to a significant upgrade for this school building in general — and nobody noticed or thought to test for asbestos? The building just doesn’t look old enough to have asbestos, but apparently it does. I just can’t wait to see what this will do to my taxes.
On the bright side, this past week I finally got my lawn mower back (more than 2 months after giving it to a repair shop) and my lawn looks civilized now. In fact, we are theorizing that the woodchucks may have moved out because I have this week removed (i.e., mowed) a lot of their grazing pastures. They seem to be AWOL. (Did they see me cleaning my .22?) Just to be sure, I have poured a box of mothballs down their hole, and will be sealing that permanently soon.
I notice local businesses are starting to get strict about masks. ‘Bout time.
Be well —
July 2, 2020: Today’s adventure involved a trip to the eye doctor — one of those appointments that you make months ago and then forget about, until one day you get a notice on your phone that you’re supposed to be somewhere. Else. Now.
By the way, do you like the drop-caps? WordPress just started offering that feature. Anyway, so we showed up (the wife and I), and we’re met at the door by a guy who turns out to be the doctor who is armed with one of those laser thermometers. Masks were mandatory, and everybody inside wore one. We’re interrogated about how we feel, and then handed the dreaded clipboards. Please fill out three pages about your medical history and insurance. Have you ever had sdkbfvqefihbqkjfhvgosis? Did your mother? My wife had the earlier appointment so she was allowed inside but I was asked to continue filling out my paperwork outside. That was fine, and I have to say they were very courteous about all this.
After some time I was called inside and the exam started. Modern technology is amazing. They had this thing I had to put my face into (with a metal framework) that essentially measured my prescription automatically. I was asked to stare at a picture of a straight road somewhere in the desert that converged onto a lighthouse in the distance. At first the scene was blurry but then it adjusted itself until the picture was crystal clear (for me), at which point a ring of blue lights lit up around my face. It did this three times (should I be snooty and say “thrice”?), once for each eye and then once for both combined.
The exam ended and I wandered over to their shop. I was still waiting for my wife and in any event, because I am a borderline diabetic I have to take a special test for the blood vessels in my eyes, which requires them to dilate my pupils (making me look like I’m on an LSD trip), a process that takes 15 minutes after they put in the drops. So I picked out a pair of frames I liked, contemplated all the bells & whistles that come with glasses nowadays, and was ready. The thing is that I was very circumspect about what frames I went with because the poor girl on the glasses counter has to spritz and clean every frame I touched. I tried on three pairs before settling on one, pretty much my age-old standard style. Essentially, I have been wearing the same frame design since 1985 or so. My fashion sense with glasses (or clothes, for that matter), is…limited. BUT, then my wife came over and she had to try on every single frame they had on display. That poor sales girl.
Luckily I had some sunglasses for the drive home, as the dilated eyes made it feel like every glint of sun from other cars and buildings was a knife into my retina. But we got home with no pile-up.
Be well —
July 1, 2020: Holy carp, it’s July already.
Anybody who thinks we humans are a rational species needs to spend some time with an ad agency. They figured out in the mid-20th century that we respond to marketing with our cerebellums, the most primordial, animalian part of our brains. And this, oddly, has led to a boom in the food coloring industry. Today, we think macaroni & cheese is a rich yellow, and our corn chips are a golden orange. Thank you, food coloring.
This extends to non-food products as well. Product manufacturers have performed all sorts of studies on how consumers (i.e., us) respond to packaging — color, shape, etc. This is why cleaning chemicals are often white, green or blue, because shoppers associate those colors with cleaning liquids. It’s chemicals; you can make ’em any color you want. Well, this all applies to dish washing soaps as well, of course.
Which brings us to today’s story. So, back in March when the COVID-19 shut-down first started, there really was a panic in food stores and people just hoarded whatever they could get their hands on, apparently believing civilization was over. This translated into me only being able to buy whatever was available, which was quite frankly thin pickin’s. Now, we go through a typical bottle of dish washing liquid maybe every month. As soon as the shutdown hit, my usual brand became unavailable. (In fact, it only just became available last week.) No biggee; my loyalty to any dish washing liquid brand is pretty thin anyway, and based more on habit than any real preference. So I just grabbed whatever was available back in March, and it tended to be this big, citrus-scented bright orange-colored stuff. It works fine. Each month, that’d be what was available in the local MarketBasket, and therefore that was the Jankowski’s preferred brand. One month, however, even that stuff wasn’t available, and in fact there was a single plastic bottle available on the shelf — a sickly, cloudy lime green-colored stuff purporting to be gentler on my hands. Fine — again, we can adapt.
I bought that one bottle, but the previous month’s orange dish washing stuff lasted longer than expected, so that I was able a month later to buy another bottle of the orange stuff. That green one sat in my kitchen cupboard for a couple months until just tonight, when I figured I might as well use it. By “use it,” I mean putting it into a large, transparent plastic holder designed for dish washing liquid with a large hand pump on top that sits on the corner of our kitchen sink. It’s convenient, and my wife prefers the regular brand dish washing bottles sit in the cupboard below with all the other kitchen chemicals. When I finished doing the dishes tonight, I noted this container on the sink was nearly empty, with just about a centimeter of liquid left in the bottom, so time for a re-fill. I reached down into the cupboard, and that’s when the decision to use that green bottle stuff came into play.
The upshot of all this is that I ended up mixing the sickly cloudy lime green-colored stuff into the citrus-scented bright orange-colored stuff, and the result is a plastic container of what now looks like teenage barf after their first alcohol experience now sitting on my kitchen sink.
Thank you, COVID-19.
Be well —
June 29, 2020: Inspired by John the Younger, haiku today:
Horny frogs at night
Belie woodchuck wars by day
The lettuce is gone
Be well —
June 28, 2020: Speaking on the phone (of course) with colleagues in New York and D.C. this past week, in downtime we discussed the relative adherence to COVID-19 restrictions and standards in our respective home areas. My New York colleague was stressing that while the wearing of masks indoors is almost 100% now, outdoors, on the street, it has been falling off. Of course, so long as people are 6 feet apart, that’s fine, but on a crowded New York street, Midtown, at lunch time, it is like a salmon fighting upstream and you are constantly coming into contact with other people — and sharing their air. My colleague in D.C. agreed that was worrying. He said that adherence there was actually very good and had improved in recent weeks, so that in stores maybe 90+% are wearing masks.
There was an audible gasp when I mentioned that here in New Hampshire, in my experience, it had been about 70-80% wearing masks in public just a couple weeks ago but that number has been slackening, so that this week in MarketBasket I’d say maybe 50-60% were wearing masks. You can sense this desire for this to be over, but it isn’t. It just isn’t. I want to eat in restaurants and go to museums and concerts too. But I can’t. We can’t. I continue wearing a mask (as does my wife) but by now we’re starting to get annoyed stares in public, like we’re reminding them of a bad dream.
On the positive side, I borrowed the neighbor’s lawn mower today — still haven;t gotten mine back from the repair shop — and knocked down the worst of the field in the back. Also, we’re finally getting some desperately-needed rain.
Be well —
June 22, 2020: Just a short one today. Yesterday we ran some errands in the a.m. and at one point I found myself in Walmart comparing the empty heavy-duty staple box in my hand to the ones on the Walmart shelves that apparently were made for staple guns with completely different measurements. The kid employee whom I asked for help was, of course, no help. “I don’t think they make this kind (Stanley 5/16″) anymore.” (I ordered them successfully online when I got home.)
But, while I was off being told my hand stapler can’t possibly exist, my wife had taken to wandering, and I knew I had some time on my hands. And so when the kid gave up on me, I meandered towards the gun department for an ammo refresh. When I got there it was abandoned (as it usually is), but there were absolutely no guns in the case and only maybe 10-15 boxes of ammo. That was unusual, and when some employee finally did wander over and help us out — another couple guys had accumulated too — we asked if Walmart was getting out of selling guns. The kid said that no, Walmart intended to continue selling guns, but because of the protests and unrest a store-wide policy had been enacted whereby all guns and most ammo was locked up in vaults in the back, in case of looting.
Be well —
June 20, 2020: So yesterday I attended a webinar, one which a colleague (who hung up after 10 minutes) dubbed the most unprofessional webinar she’s ever attended. It was on a dull, technical business subject but I am a nerd and find such things interesting.
Part of the problem was, as my colleague identified, simply due to incompetence. When you’re presenting a webinar — and I have to do so occasionally — you have to do at least one dry practice run to coordinate, make sure everyone knows how to use the system, make sure everyone knows their cues, and — maybe most importantly — everyone knows their material and the time window they have to work with. The classic presentation problem for webinars is that you write and create PowerPoint slides for what you think is 45 minutes’ worth of material, then The Day arrives, and you run through your presentation — and find you’re only 25 minutes into the webinar. That’s when the awkward, “Um, we’ll pause here to answer any questions listeners may have before moving on…” Then there’s a few uncomfortable moments of silence, and you’re forced to continue, maybe describing what you had for lunch today and trying to create a bridge analogy between that and your topic. So long story short: the people who did yesterday’s webinar clearly had put zero time into planning and preparing for the webinar. That became painfully evident.
But the mic issue was the second problem. They had managed to mute all the attendees’ microphones. After the “problems” started, I tried (as an attendee) to un-mute my mic to see if that was the problem, but I couldn’t. That means that they had successfully turned off all attendees’ mics, but had failed to do so for presenters, or at least coach them in staying quiet while others are presenting. We’re in COVID-19 lockdown and some presenter’s pre-adolescent kids were rough-housing in the background, enough to repeatedly disrupt the person trying to present. Then there were dogs barking. Then, reminiscent of a Leslie Nielsen film, someone wandered into their kitchen and very loudly began preparing their lunch (sounds of bowls clinking, the microwave running, silverware scraping the bowl as they stirred, etc.) while chatting with someone. And this went on for a good 15 minutes. The presenter speaking at the time repeatedly asked them to mute themselves or be quiet, but to no avail. He just valiantly forged on. But the best was yet to come, and actually saved them: They finally got to that point where the presenter had run out of material and was going into Q&A mode 10 minutes early, when instantly someone began blasting music — and I mean blasting. It wasn’t possible for the presenter to speak over the music. Without even attempting a “Thank you for attending,” etc., the webinar was just shut down. Our screens just went blank. Webinar over.
As most people still work remotely, the problems with kids and dogs will just be a part of business communications. Not much you can do about that. I attended an online conference event earlier this week where the CEO of a global corporation fielded questions from us analysts from his young daughter’s bedroom (a pink room bedecked with unicorns and ponies) because it was the quietest room in his house. Welcome to 2020. But seriously, some basic preparation and practice would have smoothed out most of the issues the webinar I attended had. Professionalism isn’t about wearing a suit and tie, it’s about taking the time and effort to do whatever it is you’re doing well.
On a completely unrelated note, I pre-ordered Bolton’s book today just because they tried to block it.
Be well —
June 17, 2020: I ordered lunch from a new place today (because I just found out my favorite place, which was shut down by state order when this all began, is apparently not hurting as much and announced it will leisurely reopen in a month, on July 15). Usually lunch on workdays is an exciting green, leafy salad — rabbit food — but once every week I get a sub from a local place. The new place wasn’t half bad, actually, though I still pine for my regular place to reopen. I am so utterly routine-driven, it is pathetic. In any event, I noticed they had a creative heart-shaped design taped on the floor to helpfully keep patrons socially distanced. Cute.
We — Write Free or Die — had another successful Webex meeting tonight, with Jennifer serving as this evening’s emcee, and she did a great job of putting a deck together and leading the group in discussion on writing tools. Well done. But afterward, it got me thinking about how this is the new normal. We as a group have adjusted well, though our numbers have dropped a bit. For our regular critique meetings we often packed ’em into the room at Marion Gerrish with nary a chair to spare, but now we typically have about a dozen or so, give or take — and that’s fine. I miss some of the folks who aren’t participating virtually but it is understandable why they might not try the online option. It isn’t the same as face-to-face, to be sure, and I miss our after-hours sessions in our (emphasis our) Corner Booth at Halligans. Sigh. But this is the reality we have now, and we are at least lucky that (as far as we can tell) no members have so far gotten sick, and all are healthy.
Still, this line of thought prompted me to go back in my email to the time when COVID-19 first became serious, and the debate we had back then. On March 14, Jeff sent an email announcing Marion Gerrish had closed for two weeks, and we (WFoD) were temporarily homeless. The popular thought back then was this COVID-19 thingy would blow over after two weeks, so we just had to hunker down for the duration. By early April things would be back to normal, and COVID-19 a mere blip in our memory. The group debated what to do next, with an obvious option being just meeting at Halligans (and get the drinking started early). The debate really went back and forth for a couple days, with a couple of folks arguing the need for caution, but for a time it seemed the group was leaning towards a Halligans meeting. (This exchange included, by the way, a Cornetto trilogy meme referencing The World’s End pub.) The point was made strongly that we are at our best and most effective as a group face-to-face. But on March 16 Halligans announced it too was closing, and within a day or so the state shut nearly everything down. We were presented with a fait accompli, if I may impress you momentarily with a French expression, and we began planning for our first virtual meeting to be held that Wednesday, March 18. After some experimentation with platforms, we’ve settled on Webex, and we have continued on with our work. It just strikes me how quaint we were back in March, not really realizing just how serious this thing was going to become. To be fair, a couple prescient voices in our group did try to warn us, but still — it is astonishing to me to see my mindset back in mid-March, compared to the life I accept as normal today. Indeed, I know that today I am among the lucky.
Well, thank the creative gods for this group.
Be well —
June 15, 2020: So the lockdown has officially ended, though with some caveats and restrictions. I haven’t been out today (the first post-lockdown day). Went to the local Verizon store over the weekend to sort out yet one more issue with my piece-of-crap phone, but the sign on the door declared nobody would be allowed inside without a mask. Not a problem; I had just stopped at a store and bought a box of masks and so both of us (my wife and I) were ready. We walked inside, and in this long, narrow store there were two groups of customers, an older and clearly technologically-challenged man on the right, and two guys in their thirties or so on the left. It was Saturday and there was only one store clerk, front and center at the desk. None of these people were wearing masks, not the customers nor the clerk. All of them were congregated within about ten square foot of floor space. My wife and I debated briefly and decided not to be mask nazis, but really — is it that the first wave wasn’t fun enough?
Speaking of buying the masks, it was like a drug deal. My wife had heard that Ocean State had masks, and we happened to be passing it, so we stopped. We looked around for a bit, then finally just asked an employee, who very coyly told us to just go to a register and ask. We got up to the front registers and asked a line manager who was directing customers to open registers, and she paused and clearly sized me up before directing us to a register. Do I look like a mask smuggler? Is this Orson Welles’ The Third Man? So we finally get to the cashier and she also kind of gives us the once-over, and finally goes to the customer service desk and comes back with a box of masks, which I purchase. Note that there was never a question about quantity; apparently it’s one-per-customer. All this is fine and understandable, I suppose, but there was an absurd cloak-and-dagger feel to this transaction.
Got my first (professional) hair cut in months Saturday morning. It was my usual guy,and I was glad he’s still open. He also seemed very appreciative that his old customers were coming back. He has this tiny little place, a traditional old barber shop with a single chair, and so now only the customer being worked on is allowed inside and must be wearing a mask. Saturday was a warm and sunny day so another guy didn’t seem to mind waiting outside while he worked on me. My wife has accompanied me on a few occasions for haircuts so this guy knows her well, and in fact they made a bet on a football game in the fall — she lost, and ended up baking cookies for him — and so he laughed when I told him about the hair shaving incident a month or so ago. It was good to have some semblance of normality.
On Saturday I met this woman, a friend-of-a-friend, who works at a large local hospital and we chatted a bit about COVID-19. She said things never got as bad in New Hampshire as we were all seeing elsewhere, that the hospital units mostly were able to manage the capacity issues. The worst hit, as the local news has been telling us, were the elderly, especially in nursing homes. She mentioned that some private nursing homes haven’t been able to take new patients for months and are on the financial brink. The problem isn’t state rules but simply fear: would you put your mom into a nursing home now, given the news? Anyway, she also mentioned that her hospital has created these service (and clinical) firewalls between units so that a patient can get treatment in the unit they need without coming into contact with any other units, for obvious reasons. I asked if she thought this was temporary, but she responded — as I suspected — that no, she thinks these changes will be permanent. I think that the model of a hospital, of this big, massive, one-stop-shop medical center with all sorts of specialties concentrated under one roof, is going away (or will at least be greatly diminished), giving way to smaller clinics. Maybe complementary or related units will remain connected, but I’m seeing a kind of Balkanization of medical services delivery, in part driven by cost but now also pushed by clinical need. I think I mentioned this earlier but Fareed Zakaria commented a few weeks back about how there’s been a sudden but big spike in recent years of diseases transferring from animals to humans — once a rare event, but becoming increasingly common. COVID-19 may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the new normal.
Did some belated planting this weekend, and got a lot of veggies in. I’m excited, but need to keep an eye on Mortimer, our resident yard woodchuck. If Mortimer decides to start munching on our garden, a basic conflict of interest may arise here that will require Adrian-style drastic action. We’ll see. I’ll be installing an anti-Mortimer plastic fence around the beans this week.
Meanwhile, my lawn mower is still at the repair shop, six weeks on. They had told me when I dropped it off that they were backed up and it would be a month, but that was on May 1. They called last week and said it needed a guard and it would take a few days for it to come in, but I’m still waiting now, 9 days on. I will call tomorrow. My yard looks like a field, despite having borrowed the neighbor’s mower a week ago to beat the backyard down a bit. In any event, my neighbor across the street who is semi-retired and pays an inordinate amount of attention to his immaculate lawn commented yesterday when I was out front watering flowers about how apparently we were letting our lawn go au naturale this year… We joked a bit and he laughed, but he clearly will be relieved when I finally my lawn back in order.
Finally, we apparently are on the verge of a drought. I hate droughts. Fear them. There was a severe one that lasted for the five years we lived in New Jersey, and it got to the point where the state was on the verge of implementing its emergency plan, which actually entailed asking people who had lived in the state for less than x years to move out. That experience really spooked me. We have some rain coming early next week; hoping for a good soaker.
Be well —
June 11, 2020: Did the usual weekly shopping today. For the most part supplies have settled down, and things are normal — except for a few things like Lysol wipes, which are still rationed. Wore a thin cloth mask while shopping, and it was much more comfortable than the cheapie paper ones I’ve been wearing while out. I keep a box of the paper ones in my glove compartment. I’ve mentioned this before, but masks remove an important element of social interaction in public places as people can’t see when I’m smiling to them.
So New Hampshire is not going to renew its stay-at-home orders, which expire in a few days on June 15. COVID-19 infection rates are skyrocketing elsewhere in the country, now in more rural regions, which are continuing to open businesses despite the obvious health impact. One commentator I read today noted that Americans apparently, just like with mass shootings, are willing to accept a certain death count in exchange for their carefully-guarded rights. And this is the nation that regards itself as more Christian than others, a Chosen People. Tonight I put Philip Glass’ “Koyaanisqatsi” on while doing some work.
Be well —
June 9, 2020: Talked to some neighbors today while out walking. They both work in healthcare, though as semi-retired. They do home physical therapy visits for people with special needs, and knock on wood, all the precautions they take (masks, gloves, goggles, etc.) have been effective so far. The woman has to drive anywhere in the state, so today she had to spend hours in the car traveling to towns in the three opposite corners of New Hampshire. But, as always, it’s a job, so nobody complains. She was venting with my wife about their anger at people who don’t wear masks in public.
Caught up with an old friend by phone. The news of my nephew is still filtering out, and people are just hearing about it. At least he had some positive news to counter, his son having just had his second child, a healthy daughter. He won’t be able to hold his new granddaughter for some time — months? maybe more? — because of COVID-19.
Getting some writing done, listening to good music, spent time with my wife watching the resident woodchucks in the back yard tonight. Also saw what may have been a firefly. In early June?
Be well —
June 6, 2020: Yesterday about midday I heard a cacophony of sirens coming through town. To my chagrin — though I can’t explain rationally why — my stomach churned when I realized they’d turned up my road. It’s odd, isn’t it; I knew my house wasn’t on fire but someone else’s was. It’s not like misfortune is a communicable disease. Anyway, it sounded like the entire town emergency response force was involved, and they were. It turns out that instead of a public graduation for high school seniors, the town got out all its fire and police vehicles and threw the kids a parade that went up and down every street in town (which took maximum about 30 minutes). My anxiety turned to relief, and laughter even. As people came out to see what the fuss was about, the firetrucks and police would rev their sirens. They were followed by a long train of students in decorated cars like a very cheap and rural Mardi Gras, who responded like a Baptist chorus to every siren with shouts and screams. All in all it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad the town got creative with this year’s graduating class. I wonder if they’ll have to do the same next year…
The past few days have been humid and I’m waiting for a string of thunder storms to wander through today, bringing both much-needed rain and a cool front. Bring it!
Today is Saturday and I went to the Concord farmer’s market, a nice diversion and excursion (diversionary excursion?). Mornings for me start as late as possible so I got there about a half hour before closing so it was a bit thinned out, but I still had some fun. I love farmer’s markets. I picked up a few things (e.g., eggs) but had a run-in with a woman I met once over the winter when the farmer’s market was indoors. She sells goat milk products — cheese, fudge, etc. When I was a kid in summers we would go to a small Southern Tier town called Springville where they had, Wednesdays and Saturdays, farmer’s auctions where you could find the most amazing stuff. BUT, this was also Amish country and on the street corner leading into town there were usually a couple Amish families selling stuff. One of them every week sold goat milk stuff — and it was God-awful. As I’m writing this I am cringing with the memory of the smell and the taste. You know how Limburger cheese smells so bad but when you try it, it actually can be pretty good? Goat-milk cheese and fudge are even more horrible than they smell. Well, fast-forward a few decades and my wife and I are wandering the Concord indoor farmers market some Saturday morning this past winter, when we come upon this stand with an older lady selling goat milk products. She offers some samples but I decline, and my wife — seeing the horror in my eyes — also declines. The woman became adamant that we try something, but I related my childhood experiences to her — and now she feels a challenge. She really starts pushing the stuff on us, insisting the Amish have no clue how to do it right, and that hers is delicious. We manage to escape, I think by crawling out an air duct or something. But as soon as I saw her this morning her eyes locked on to me. I had to suppress my body’s fight-or-flight impulses.
But I did escape, and did something I haven’t done for a couple months — just kinda strolled down Main Street. It was a sunny day and a lot of people were rambling around Main Street, and a lot of businesses were open. It was reassuring to see, though some didn’t have face masks. My favorite CD shop, Pitchfork Records, managed to survive and so I splurted some hand sanitizer on (available at their door) and donned a mask, and went in. It felt so comfortable to just browse albums, almost normal-like, except for the mask. I felt the need to support the business so I bought a couple albums, by Jerry Douglas and Funkadelic. I only recently discovered Funkadelic, an amazing Detroit guitarist with a real flair for writing songs. And, sadly, angrily, the message of racism (recorded in the late 60s) still resonates today. Why?
Had a good, long talk with my sister-in-law yesterday. She’s doing relatively well, all things considered, and is adjusting well. They cleaned out my nephew’s toys this week. I am a bit concerned because while she has reached out for help, per our recommendations — counseling, grief support groups, friends, us, etc. — her husband hasn’t. I often joke about how men are so ill equipped for emotions but there is some truth in that humor, and he is a dad who just buried his 2 year old son. He needs help. He and I have almost nothing in common outside he married my wife’s sister, and even for a guy, he has remarkably poor communication skills. He’s smart, just unsure how to engage people. I feel like I need to somehow reach out, but I don’t know how, or if he would respond anyway.
Be well —
June 3, 2020: My father hates starlings. He considers them rats with wings, stealing bird seed from more preferable birds like his favorite Baltimore Orioles. Starlings regularly get chased from the elaborate array of bird feeders in his yard — and, if I’m honest, given his well-honed marksmanship, some suffer worse fates. I have inherited his worldview in a lot of ways, and when I see starlings, my first thought is usually “junk birds.” But despite that, I like them. They do have a crow-like gang mentality and can be bullies, but that’s par for the course in the bird world. To me, they’re just birds, doing what birds do, and I’m happy to coexist with them. My backyard is filled with them now, as they methodically root through my lawn for seeds or bugs. I’ve always loved how their wings glint in the sun when they turn just right, revealing marbled glowing greens, purples and blues otherwise concealed in their drab-black.
My wife visits her sister every day now, and has been spending a lot of time with our niece. This has been positive for everybody. Old, frayed relationships are being rebuilt.
However, when communicating with some coworkers recently, my sister-in-law was infuriated when someone asked her, “You’re not bringing anyone from Poland into this country for the funeral, are you?” The question stemmed from COVID-19 fears. As if COVID was some illegal alien, brought in by dirty, rotten, stinkin’ foreigners. What an ignorant question.
I was in Londonderry this past weekend and noticed the town has, in lieu of graduation ceremonies (because of COVID-19), instead created flags for every graduating senior and hung them on telephone and utility poles around town. I had to take pictures of the kids of friends and send them congratulations. It was a creative solution.
In these crazy times, be well —
May 31, 2020: The funeral Friday was beautiful. The sun was shining, there was a nice, slight breeze, and though it was slightly humid, it was still comfortable. It wasn’t horrible to be standing outside in a full suit and tie. It started at the church, a nice little Catholic place up north (where the baby’s father’s family lives), with a simple service. Only 10 people were allowed in the church at a time, including the priest, a singer and an organ player. However, as I volunteered to be the odd one out for the family, the priest sent someone running after me in the parking lot and told me to come in anyway; the family needed me, as he said. We were all wearing masks, though the priest didn’t. (The funeral home director didn’t either, which annoyed the family.) While COVID-19 severely restricted who could attend, still, in the end I think it was better for my sister-in-law that she didn’t have to tend to and spend time accepting condolences from so many people; she and her husband were able to focus squarely on their own grief.
The priest scored major points in the mass by having taken the time to research the baby’s Polish name, and discuss its meaning. It was the only time I saw the family smile during the mass.
Her husband was mostly throughout the mass just trying to keep their 4 year old daughter occupied. An outside observer might not even have guessed that he was the father, as it was my sister-in-law who spent the entire mass just trying to keep it together. (She forged through a reading of a letter she wrote to her son. She is a stronger person than I.) But at the end when given a minute alone, he laid his hands on his son’s casket, his head hung, and his shoulders just started heaving up and down. He is a very private, aloof person, known well I suspect to only a handful of people on this Earth, and now he is in a private hell. Later, in the cemetery, though, I saw his salvation in his love for my sister-in-law. Yes, there is family he can turn to, but most importantly, they have each other. (I strongly suspect there are couples out there who don’t.)
The cemetery was very quaint, very rural northern New England. I put my hand on the shoulder of the father’s father, the baby’s grandfather, and he looked at me and said, “I bought these plots for the family, but I never thought I’d be using them to bury children.” His other son had died in his twenties a a decade or so ago; my nephew was being buried next to a pre-deceased uncle. This was a doubly hard day for the grandparents.
But the graveside service was touching. As mentioned the weather was friendly, and while I can’t recall what the priest read, it seemed fitting. We all had to wear masks, and stand 6 feet apart. It took only four pallbearers; the baby’s parents, the baby’s godfather, and myself. I was taken aback how light the casket was, and the entire walk from the hearse to the grave I kind of babbled to him in my mind about what was happening, why, and how loved he was. All the while I thought how ridiculous it was to do this, but I did it. I said goodbye.
Afterwards, at the grandparents’ house, we all relaxed and the mood was lighter — not exactly jovial, but steps above graveside demeanor. Everyone was going out of their way to be kind to one another, a welcome development.
There is this odd ritual among guys that played out on the grandparents’ back deck. Most men do not like dressing up formally, especially when it gets to the necktie stage. They complain about the tie, but I think their real problem is with the constraints on behavior (including even how they stand and sit) that accompany wearing a necktie. The tie is just a symbol of all this sudden, unwelcome heightened behavioral awareness. In any event, it is unclear to most men just when, after a formal event ends, that we can go back to normal behavioral patterns. Five minutes? An hour? The next day? And so it is a tremendous relief to us when someone provides direction. In our case, the grandfather, godfather and myself were just getting settled into seats on the back deck when the godfather loosened and removed his tie, and unbuttoned his top shirt button. Taking the cue, I did the same, and when he saw me the grandfather immediately nodded approvingly, even saying, “Ah, yes!” and followed suit. Formality was over.
That was Friday. The weekend since has been, in light of this past week, a fairly good weekend, spent keeping busy. It was a most welcomely a normal weekend. (I think I just invented a word there.) We ordered pizza one night. I had taken my very abused lawnmower to a local repair shop some weeks ago and haven’t gotten it back yet, and in the interim my back lawn has become a full-blown field. A kind neighbor lent us his lawnmower so I spent yesterday in classical man-versus-nature combat, re-carving out my yard. It was an all-day job involving the lawnmower, a weed-whacker, some sheers, a shovel, and at the end of the day, a hose. In compensation for my beating the crap out of his lawnmower, we got him and his kids a gift certificate for a local ice cream place. (I also returned his gas can full.)
As I’m writing this, I’m hearing my wife watching the news in the next room describing Boston as it joins Chicago and other cities descending into chaos. As we’re fighting to recreate a small island of normalcy, the world is going nuts. Every world order has those who want to disrupt, or even destroy it; those people now have the upper hand in our world.
In a world of crazies, try your best to be well —
May 26, 2020: The funeral will be later this week. The phones light up non-stop, as people hear the news and reach out. The past several days have been a flurry of picture sharing, anecdote swapping, planning, crying. And anger. Lots of anger.
The church will only allow ten people at a time, and nobody is allowed near the casket (because COVID-19 may be involved). Someone knowledgeable told us morticians often aren’t informed how a person died, so they have to treat every body as if it had COVID-19. I’m actually glad we’ll have to stay outside for the service, not because of the pandemic but I just don’t want to be stuck in a building for this. There will be masks, of course. I’ve gotten used to wearing them by now, sort of.
I won’t get into the details here but it is becoming more and more apparent that someone really screwed up. (Hence, the anger.) We have to wait a couple months for the full autopsy report to know for sure, but there is this creeping fear that his death was preventable, that the ER screwed up by sending him home three times on the same day. The preliminary report identified what went wrong that killed him, but wasn’t sure what may have caused it. COVID-19 is among the possibilities, as are some longer-term conditions that may have lurked beneath the surface (though if so then why they weren’t caught by his very regular visits to the pediatrician is an important question). But the universal reaction from friends (especially medical professionals) when they hear his story is: why didn’t they keep him overnight for observation? Why did they send him home repeatedly despite his symptoms?
We’re not medical professionals and shouldn’t second-guess them, but a little boy is dead. Our hope is that the state will be asking the same questions. In any event, we have a funeral and a family to tend to.
On the positive side, our relative in Chicago has fully recovered from COVID-19, despite his own lengthy health issues beforehand.
Be well —
May 21, 2020: My nephew, a beautiful, inquisitive, laughing boy less than two years old, passed away this morning. We’re not sure if it was COVID-19; there will be an autopsy. He had odd symptoms for a week or so and had been repeatedly to the pediatrician, including three times yesterday. The doctor didn’t think it was COVID-19, so he didn’t test for it. So we don’t know. When they tried to wake him this morning, he was blue. It has the hallmarks of the syndromes children infected with C-19 are described as suffering from in the news — but at this stage, we just don’t know.
I am an adult and supposed to understand death, but the idea that this lively little boy is now in a bag on a stainless steal table somewhere in a refrigerated room confounds me. I don’t understand death. I understand it biologically, but I can’t wrap my head around the reality I won’t be chasing him around my non-child-proofed living room anymore, stopping him from grabbing everything. I was going to be that uncle, the one who sneaked him out of his parents’ house when he was 14 years old and took him shooting. I’m watching the sun slowly set now, and I can’t believe it will never rise with him in this world again.
He is survived by his sister, who is a few years older. He was gregarious and went out and grabbed the world, she is more circumspect, preferring to wait and observe. He pretty much decided instantly that you were his best friend. I will have to work more with her. I’m going to have to play a bigger role going forward as uncle for her, I think.
So I got the call this morning from my wife telling me to immediately head for her sister’s place. There was a family dynamic at play, as always, but the entire ride there, I just kept wondering what I was going to do. I decided to do what I always do when I don’t know how to behave: I channeled my father. My Dad handled these kinds of situations well and knew how to comfort people. And so I pretended to be my Dad, and tried to somehow help this young family with a gaping hole in it cope for just a little bit. Hugging, sitting, crying, sharing some stories. They were like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
And so we move forward. On the plus side, this is pushing the family closer together again. I need to keep that momentum, and be the husband, brother-in-law and uncle everyone needs me to be.
Be well, and hug those closest to you —
May 20, 2020: A nice warm spring week and people — including this homo sapien – are enjoying it. I wonder if this will take some of the edge off quarantine angst. Saw a line at the local ice cream place at noon today when I ran out on some errands at lunch. Per the governor’s new direction this past weekend, some local restaurants have set up tables out in their parking lots. One erected a tent.
Also wondering if my barber is open.
If I may do some minor bragging, a teacher of a high school class at some private school in Los Angeles last week reached out, saying he was using my book in his class and his kids loved it. (He included a pic of each of them holding their copy of my book.) He asked if I would mind doing some Q&A with his kids, which happened Tuesday. These kids were actually very engaged and excited about history, and asked questions that I would have deemed sophisticated coming from an adult audience. They were asking about sources, modern politics and history, and research methodology — high school kids! It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I hooked a couple up with some experts in the fields they were writing their papers on. Afterward the teacher said they think I’m “like a basketball star.” I think that’s a compliment. It was a big gas to again see someone — a group of people — reading, enjoying and finding value in my book.
(One kid asked why I have a day job if I’ve already published a book, especially a history book. I told him he’ll never see a historian driving a Maserati.)
Be well —
May 17, 2020: Things had gone well the first time my wife cut my hair a couple weeks ago. I showed her how to adjust the clippers, sat in the bathroom with a towel draped around my neck, and even had some tissues handy just in case there was any…blood. But it all went fine, and both of us were pleased with the outcome. Heck, even John the Elder commented about it in one of our Wednesday night meetings (now online, sans Halligans).
Which is why today was such a…disappointment. I was positioned on the bathroom floor again, confident this would be a quick drill. She started on my neck and made a single stripe up the back of my head, when I realized that she had forgotten to put the adjustable trimming guard on. This meant she had shaved off a stripe of what little hair I had, straight up the back of my head. She spent a few moments trying to hide this by micro-trimming the hair on both sides of her stripe, but after some time it became clear the easiest path forward was simply to shave it all off. This means I am at a stage in my life where even peach fuzz is aspirational.
As she has reminded me since repeatedly, it will grow back, at least in the back and on the sides where I still have some functioning follicles. She has taken every opportunity today to let me know she likes this look.
It was warm enough (and not monsooning) today for us to enjoy our dinner out on the back porch. It was an extreme pleasure to just listen to the birds, and watch the sun set. However, one minor concern is that a critter cam has revealed we have a resident woodchuck. I think we had him last year as well, which would be good news, as he did not bother the vegetable gardens. I saw a woodchuck in the far backyard last year, and the critter cam caught him wandering back there again a week ago — but deployment of the cam on the back of the house this week revealed he is happily wandering up this close. I am concerned about a clash of interests once the garden goes in.
Still getting mixed, but better news about our relative. Seemingly his condition is improving.
Be well —
May 15, 2020: Our relative may go back on the ventilator. We’re getting some mixed signals, but we don’t want to press too hard — his poor wife is at wit’s end. There is a little voice in the back of my mind that suggests we ought to prepare for her to possibly end up living with us. Mentally, we’re kind of in contingency mode nowadays. We talked a bit tonight about having our nieces visit us, maybe around Christmas — a desperate hope and grasp for normalcy.
Something as simple as an oil change has become more complicated. My wife’s car was long passed due, so we called our regular local guy for an appointment. At first, all was normal but then he called back today and said one of his customers whom he’d recently serviced called back to say she now has tested positive for COVID-19, so he is going into isolation for two weeks. I’m grateful that he put our health before his financial need, but what a bizarre world. I thanked him for making the right decision.
Today we had a strong warm front come through pushing tropical, humid air, and it felt good. It didn’t last; a cold front followed quick on its heels, and we had thunderstorms and meteorological drama, but mostly the theatrical kind. Lotsa rain. I only very belatedly put the lawnmower in the shop a week or so ago for a tune-up, blade sharpening, etc., and they told me it might be as much as a month before I get it back. Ugh. I’m going to have a a full-blown field by then. Maybe I’ll hire some kid to cut it once. That said, I’ll take care of the snow blower myself, drain the gas tanks, etc., — soon, long before winter.
Be well —
May 14, 2020: Our relative has shown some improvement, but not as much as doctors would like. He seems to be out of the extreme danger zone, but is not seen as out of the woods yet. Yesterday he was off the ventilator and communicative, but today, pretty much unchanged. He’s had big health issues in the past which is generating a lot of concern. An old friend reached out today just to check up; it was a nice conversation. We keep planning some sort of backyard shindig when that sort of thing is possible, to have friends over and just have fun.
Growing up in New York, I inherited an automatic sales tax-calculating mechanism in my head that still kicks in occasionally, so that after a decade and a half living in New Hampshire, I can still be surprised at the check-out when there’s no tax on my purchase. Anyway, my brain tends to work that way. This was reflected yesterday when a sort of dashboard light in my head lit up in the morning informing me that I needed to make sure the car had enough gas for the usual Wednesday night WFoD writer’s group festivities. In COVID-19 2020, the more appropriate reaction was to make sure the laptop was charged.
About the only time I get out nowadays is when I go shopping, so I can report that today MarketBasket was well stocked, and people were a bit sullen but mostly polite, even occasionally friendly.
Be well —
May 12, 2020: This is a what-the-fuck post. So I reported back on May 1st that a relative of ours is a nurse who was attending to a patient who, when the visit was over, informed her she had tested positive for COVID-19. Why the f— would you still go out in public then? Anyway, to make the proverbial long story short, despite all precautions, this past weekend she (our relative) noticed her husband seemed a bit “off” one morning and took him to the local hospital to get tested. Today, just days later, he has double-pneumonia, is on a ventilator, and is fighting for his life. He has had respiratory problems in the past, and had a major health crisis some years back. He is now receiving some sort of experimental drug. She is not allowed to see him, and in fact she is self-isolating, given that she obviously is now a carrier. (They have adult kids, whom I think don’t live at home anymore.) Communications within the family are being controlled to limit panic.
So be well, but do the responsible thing, for f— sake.
May 9, 2020: Woke up to snow this morning. I knew that was coming, but later, at around noon, we got a snow squall. All the trees and plants are budding; hope they survive.
While food shopping this week at MarketBasket, noticed the meats were fairly well-stocked despite national fears of shortages as meat plants are forced to close. But, for some odd reason, the produce section was absolutely ransacked. No lettuce, only a few severely anemic peppers, no mushrooms, whole shelves empty. Glad to see Americans in quarantine are eating healthier, but what the hell — what’s with the panic shopping?
OK, I can confess now. I am a hoarder. And I don’t mean books. Well, I hoard those too, but that’s for another blog. While at MarketBasket I thought while strolling down the paper aisle that maybe I ought to get some paper towels. So I grabbed 4 of the cheapies. But when I got home I realized we already had some in the usual space upstairs, but no problem — I’ll just put them downstairs near the laundry stuff, as overflow. When I got downstairs I realized I’d apparently already done this recently, as there were 8 rolls already dutifully stored.
Saw a drive-through church today, which for some reason struck me as hilarious. I roared laughing all the way down Route 106.
We — my wife and I — were in the middle of some store today when I complained about the damned face mask fogging my glasses. I read somewhere that this was a sign of dirty glasses, and that properly cleaning said glasses will resolve the issue, but that turned out to be a load of horse s*** as I was once again fighting with fogged glasses in a store, trying not to bump into people because I just couldn’t see. But in the midst of my tirade on the subject of fogged glasses, my wife reached over and pinched the nose of my disposable mask, which closed off the access point for my breath — and lo! My glasses stopped fogging. Who knew? She wears these things all the time at work. I don’t.
A woman in a local town group on Facebook let it be known she was selling fresh farm eggs, and so I contacted her. My schedule was difficult this week but we kept trying to meet, unsuccessfully. Finally yesterday I let her know I could meet somewhere but she insisted on coming to my home to deliver. She showed up with kids in tow — I suspect her huge, 6 foot+teenage son sitting in the passenger seat was security — and we completed the transaction. We love farm eggs so we were pleased, but I have to admit there was a feel of desperation in the sale. I may be imagining, but it seemed like an unemployed person desperate for income, any income.
And it is full-blown snowing outside now, at 4.00 p.m. in the afternoon. Kinda pretty, actually.
Be well —
May 6, 2020: While on a conference line with work colleagues waiting for people to join, several who were based in New York commented that New Yorkers have tossed open container laws out the window, and people are wandering the streets now with open beer cans, liquor bottles, even Margaritas. New York has descended into a party.
Be well —
May 5, 2020: I was thinking today about the difference between the people I see on the news (who infuriate me) and the people I encounter around here, both my neighbors and the folks I meet when shopping (who inspire me). In Group A, we see a bunch of knuckle-dragging reactionaries who blame what is essentially a biological event on some bogeyman. Our news, which is, after all, a business that chases profits and is therefore incentivized to sensationalize its content, has been shoving cameras and microphones in front of these people — and they are sensational, and infuriating. But I think — I hope — they are a tiny minority. Shields & Brooks have been citing polls claiming the majority of Americans support the restrictions, or at least understand them. I am sympathetic to the plight of people who have lost jobs and desperately want things to go back to normal, but they seem to blame the gubmint or Liberals or (in today’s news — medical experts) for somehow causing all this, and that is just rank stupidity. In any event, the post-COVID-19 normal is not going to look anything like the pre-COVID-19 normal. We, society, and the economy have been profoundly changed. Any thoughts of things snapping back like an elastic band to the January, 2020 normal in a month or so is pure fantasy. Just from an economic perspective, I can see this will take years to recover.
I saw an interview with a woman whose husband watched Fox News and believed COVID-19 to be a hoax and so he refused to take any precautions, and he ended up catching the virus and dying. In this interview the distraught woman still blamed “the liberal media” for over-hyping COVID-19, compelling the truth-tellers like Fox News [sic] to downplay COVID-19’s impact, and thereby convincing her husband to disregard safety measures. This kind of mental acrobatics is astonishing.
But while she is sadly news, I suspect increasingly she is not the norm. Maybe it’s a regional thing, I don’t know, but the people I’m meeting on the street seem to be fully accepting of our situation, and are doing their part. Most are still in fairly good humor, joking about things, and most importantly are respectful of one another. I know some locals who are Fox News (or worse) followers, but while occasionally making wry jokes, even they are playing along and seem to be taking this seriously. My point is the national news I’m seeing (e.g., ABC, NBC, etc.) are constantly putting the crazies on the nightly news, while paying less attention to the majority of us who are doing the right things. It sends a message of lunacy, when only a small minority are trying to storm state houses with guns. Most of us are intelligent enough to understand a haircut can wait. Lives are more important.
Be well —
May 3, 2020: Had a chat with my sister-in-law in Poland today, who works in a local hospital. Generally, though she abhors the current government there (as do I), she says they did a good job with an immediate lock down, so that new cases have leveled off and the government is contemplating some measures for opening stuff. In Poland, the Church is all-powerful, almost like in medieval times, and she was complaining about how they were granted exemptions from social distancing rules — and now the last remaining outposts of new infections are Church institutions. In the hospital she said they’re seeing a huge uptick in alcoholism-related injuries, as well as domestic abuse. Aside from the actual injuries they incur, the drunks are problematic because they don’t observe social distancing rules, often then posing a double-danger to staff. She described some neighbors who pooh-poohed the whole coronavirus threat until they saw people dropping, and they were suddenly converted and became ultra-hyper-careful. While it’s just anecdotal, based on my conversation with her it seems like the whole quarantine has been taken more seriously in Poland than here. This is reinforced by a blog post written this past week written by a British banking analyst I follow who is married to a Pole and lives in Poland, and he mentioned being initially outraged by the tight restrictions Poland put in place very early on — but changed his mind after he saw the chaos unfolding in the UK and the US with the half-measures both enacted.
Also, apparently my nieces spoke extensively with my wife earlier this morning on Skype and helped her go through her closet, helping Ciocia/Auntie decide what to ditch and what to keep. They have now volunteered to lend their fashion expertise to my wardrobe.
Today was a gorgeous spring day and we spent some quality time in the yard and just bopping around the house, getting things done here and there but basically living like it was a Sunday. Because, you know, it was.
Be well —
May 2, 2020: The local gas station used to sell the most amazing chocolate chip cookies, made locally by somebody. It got so that any time I needed gas, I made a beeline for this place, just to get a cookie. (I guess the cookies did their job as far as the gas station owners were concerned.) I say “used to,” because now in the little basket by the register where they used to be, they sell face masks. I looked around but could find no trace of my beloved cookies. My wife had told me they were selling masks now — the quarantine has put a big dent in my driving, so that today was the first day in a month I needed to stop for gas — and she wanted me to pick up a pack. But I didn’t realize the masks would be supplanting those wonderful cookies. So I bought some masks with my gas, looking like a kid being tugged away from the candy store window.
I actually did have a good day, but on the way home on Route 93 I remembered the cookies and was feeling sorry for myself, when a big bug hit the windshield. And I thought, “OK, my day isn’t going that bad.”
Be well —
May 1, 2020: We have a lot of friends who work in healthcare in various capacities. This ranges from older, retired professionals to one friend who just got his RN license last year. So today we got news that two of them have been exposed to COVID-19, though I think both are at this point a-symptomatic. In one case, a younger child is involved so they’ve taken steps, shipping the teenage child off to the grandparents while they isolate themselves for two weeks. It’s more complicated that that; the woman in question is living financially on the edge, and can’t afford to stop working. It’s selfish, but on the other hand, she’s worried about being able to keep roof overhead and feed her family. She hasn’t been tested herself yet — that’s in the works — but her idiot daughter has (and has tested positive), after she was irresponsible and repeatedly went into public places without taking precautions. In the other case there are no young children involved but still, they have to lock themselves up for two weeks. This latter case was the result of a patient who waited until after a visit was over to inform our relative, a nurse, they had tested positive.
Friends are asking for face masks so we’re giving some of ours to them, and trying to buy more through the online networks for our old, elderly neighbors. I think one guy next to whom we lived until last year hasn’t left his home in a month or more. He’s terrified. My wife does his shopping each week, taking a list over the phone and delivering to his front porch and leaving the groceries there. He waits until she’s gone to bring them in.
I am going to rant again about the idiots in Michigan who are protesting, storming the state house and brandishing Confederate flags and guns. (Imagine a crowd of blacks doing the same, storming into a state house with Black Panther flags and guns. How do you think that would end? Would the President be calling them good folks?) Nobody knows how we’ll reopen the economy and everyone has the right to be concerned and voice their opinion on that process, but this kind of irresponsible behavior is just dangerous political theater — and shows a complete disregard for their fellow citizens. It isn’t bad enough we’re going through this, and now we have to put up with intimidation and demonization as well?
Be well —
April 29, 2020: Grabbed some more face masks today, from a local woman. She refused to take any money for them. She hand-made them. Crises like this bring out the best in some people, the worst in others, as I am learning. I think this summer if/when restrictions are loosened somewhat, we’ll bake her something.
A coworker revealed today that he is working 16 hour days regularly. Most of his colleagues on his team were laid off a couple weeks back, and he is frantic about keeping his job. I am seeing more like him, people who feel like cornered animals. The consulting firms are starting to come alive again after a month of shocks, and the thought leadership they’re pushing emphasizes how this crisis will likely lead to a tsunami of automation, so that a lot of those furloughed jobs are going to simply go away. This shouldn’t be shocking; there have been analysts and others talking about this day for years now. COVID-19 is just accelerating what was already underway. When we say “automation” today, many picture factories where robot arms do the work humans used to do, but modern automation is really in the form of software that replaces white collar jobs (like mine). The industrial revolution created the idea of compensation, that a worker does something for an employer and is compensated for it. That relationship is going away, and there will be going forward a growing mass of under-educated, under-skilled, unemployable people who have memories of once being useful — as well as once having earned middle class lifestyles. There is a side of me that recognizes this is just change, and it just requires a pivot on our part, a reorientation to acknowledge and accommodate the new. But I also know we don’t do change very well, especially on this scale, and our current politics and economic debates are stuck in 1970. That leaves a lot of disaffected, marginalized, angry people. Gonna be a fun decade.
Be well —
April 28, 2020: It has rained for the past couple days, hard at times, and so it was a very pleasant surprise when I went to the kitchen window this evening at dusk and caught a glimpse of the sun peaking out over the clouds, but just as it was disappearing beneath the horizon. This created a golden glow effect on the very tops of the trees in the backyard as they caught this brief glint of sunshine. It was somehow life-affirming. It’s odd how we humans are wired for this sort of thing, but I am grateful for the ability to see beauty.
Saturday was a wonderful watershed, the ability to get out and be social (kinda-sorta, from the safety of our car). About the only times otherwise I have actual contact with people I’m not married to is when I’m shopping. And that happens once a week.
Speaking of which, my wife mentioned that she berated some woman in the local Shaws for not following the direction arrows on the floor, going against traffic in an aisle. I just sat quietly and listened as she expressed her outrage that this cow-of-a-woman couldn’t follow basic directions — quiet because I have pretty much ignored those directional arrows on the floor myself. I vaguely became aware they were there a week or so back when some woman pointed them out to me, but she was just discovering them herself. So now food store aisles are all one-way. OK, I suppose I’ll start paying more attention to those. I wonder if someone ever went home and complained that some 3-star moron (i.e., me) wasn’t following the aisle arrows?
I finally heard from a friend in Hungary, and she seems to be doing OK. I will learn more this weekend. I was afraid; she’s had frail health for some years, sometimes to the extent she’s been bed-ridden. My concerns are two-fold: her physical health, and her employment. She’s an English language teacher — the best I know. She is infamously brutal (her students fear her), but her students are also known to excel with above-average English skills. I can’t imagine her school is still operating, but I will find out.
I am pulling back from Facebook a bit. I never really took it seriously, but it’s been a nice tool to keep track of extended family, friends and old colleagues who don’t live nearby — the people you don’t get to meet regularly. But unfortunately, a sizable portion of my networking community are, for lack of a better term, rightwing nutjobs. It isn’t just their politics that grates on my nerves, but their propensity to rant, and worst, their slavish adherence to the rightwing propaganda machine that spews non-stop fear and outrage. Every day I know what Fox News or Sean Hannity or etc. have said, because it ripples out through Facebookworld like a virus, with so many people just repeating verbatim what they saw on their favorite show. Each day I see the exact same talking points repeated mindlessly on homepages, often word-for-word. They’re scared, I get it — hey, I’m scared too — but we’re all under attack from a mindless microbe and no amount of culture war chest-pounding will save you. I am particularly concerned because some rightwing fools are pushing the narrative of COVID-19 being a hoax or exaggerated, and I’m seeing a small but growing number of their cult followers asserting they will stop doing what the CDC or gubmint’ tells them to, that it’s all some sort of conspiracy against freedom. It’s not just rank stupidity, it’s dangerous. I saw today that now more Americans have died from COVID-19 than died in the entire Vietnam War. This is dangerous stuff, and no time for fantasies. To be sure, there is a mirror base of nutjobs on the other side as well, but that group is far smaller.
I wonder if any of us will look back on these years and be ashamed?
Until then, be well —
April 26, 2020: Today cabin fever really set in so I piled the wife into the car and we headed for the coast. All along Route 1A there are these little pull-offs where you can park and either stroll or sit and watch the ocean. It doesn’t hurt that there are also mansions all along this route, some monstrously overwrought (i.e., gaudy) but some more stately and elegant, and well-sculpted into their environment. (We were visiting a beautiful historic Victorian-style garden in one of these houses a couple summers back, when we noticed the neighbors, whose house was what an Italianate mansion might look like in the Sims computer game, had splayed out on their vast front lawn a series of plaster (?) human figures made to look like marble, but many of which had apparently arrived damaged. Their wooden crates also laid about the lawn.) It was supposed to rain heavily today so I’d nixed these ideas yesterday, but as I saw the weather holding off this morning, I thought — why not? We would take a drive to the coast, and spend some time on the ocean, far from crowds, breathing in the salt air and listening to the waves crash on the rocks. Ahhhh.
But plans are designed to go awry. The first hint of a crack came as we headed out east on 101, and realized we were not alone. Now, I know the beaches are closed, so I was hoping they were going some place else. Portsmouth maybe? But no, as I got off onto Route 1, the crowd stayed with me. Same thing when I turned down 1A, a single lane road. So this large mass of vitamin D-deprived humanity snaked single-file all the way to the ocean. I could see five or six cars ahead of me, and two or three behind me, and the same group basically made the entire journey.
The next hint that today was not going to go as planned came as we approached the final exit on 101, where we found one of those temporary digital road signs informing us that all state parks are closed, and that there was no parking on Route 1A. Now, there are a few large scale parks along that road, so I was hoping the sign was referring to those. Besides, there were at least a dozen of those small pull-offs along the way, some with room for only 2-5 cars. It’s not like they could watch them all, right? We immediately began hatching a plot: we’ll pull off and enjoy as much time as we can, and if a cop came along then we’d play ignorant, but obligingly leave. (Yes, our morals were compromised.) But alas, we were wrong. They actually did manage to block every single one of them with orange cones and had cops aggressively patrolling the entire length of the route. And so this long convoy of out-of-towners (us among them) gazed out longingly over the ocean from our cars as we drove 30 mph all the way from the Hamptons to Portsmouth, unable to stop or park anywhere. You could see the same forlorn expression on everyone’s faces, and we each only went off on our separate ways after we arrived in Portsmouth.
Well, while not quite what we were hoping for, still, it was a pleasant drive, and a tonic to get out. The ocean is beautiful. And Route 1A is a very scenic drive with amazing ocean views and historic homes all along the way.
We also paid attention to the many businesses along the way. These were mostly seasonal seafood restaurants and boat supply places, which we speculated may be OK because they’re already seasonal and were prepared for a slow spring season. The pain for them will come if the summer season is impacted — and it may be. This route is also packed with museums, parks and historic sites, and we found ourselves repeating, “If we are allowed to go out this summer, we’ll have to stop and see this place…”
We drove around Portsmouth a little bit and crossed over into Kittery, Maine for no apparent reason. It still felt good to see these places again, and just get out of the house. (Note: when we got to the Maine side of the bridge, a flashing digital sign informed us that all non-Maine residents had to adhere to a 2 week self-quarantine upon entering the state. We just never got out of the car and high-tailed it back to New Hampshire.) We drove home on our favorite route which is more in the way of back roads, and as we passed through a jumble of small towns, we kept looking to see if businesses we like were still open, or at least not liquidated or gone forever. For many, it was hard to tell. One of the latter is a surprisingly sizable used bookstore, in the middle of nowhere, but so well stocked and operated by an ancient man. I hope he and the store make it.
Finally, I’ll mention what a hazard it is driving now that so many people are out biking, jogging and walking. They make sidewalks for a reason, people! Use ’em!
Be well —
April 23, 2020: So today I had to grab something in Walmart while on lunch from work. I ended up chatting with the guy who helped me at the counter, after he fielded two calls about bikes. He told me this particular Walmart ended up hiring an outside company to assemble bicycles — 50 just this morning, in the back of the store. And he said they’ve all already been sold. They can’t keep them in stock; people are clamoring for them. Another store employee walked by at one point pushing two kids bikes towards the registers. Makes sense; folks are stuck at home and getting cabin fever, made worse by the (kinda-sorta) arrival of spring. Add kids to the equation, and yeah, I’d pay lots of money to get my hands on a bike too. Actually, I have two good bikes in the garage, but they are in sore need of maintenance.
Also got some of the weekly food shopping out of the way today. The stores seem better stocked. I am keenly aware of how that will impact morale. About 2/3 of shoppers were wearing masks today. And for the most part, people seem civil, some friendly even. I go out of my way to be kind and friendly. It helps me to see this in others. One minor blip for myself was that some of the new face masks we’ve bought don’t fit my face. I must have the world’s weirdest head — nothing ever fits: glasses, hats, and now masks. I’ve got big ears so you’d think masks would be no problem, but the one I had today just kept launching itself off my face because my ear would just fold, catapulting the damned thing like a rubber band off in some direction. I gave up after a while. (I had plastic gloves on, at least.) Today was the first time I came to MarketBasket in weeks. They have some brands we prefer, and the line out front wasn’t too long. A new procedure now is that you must stand 6 feet from the end of the check out when waiting at the register, and after every customer the cashier sprays down and wipes the entire conveyor belt clean before you can start loading your stuff.
After work we took a walk around the yard, watching flowers poking up out of the soil and both trees and bushes budding. I love winter, but I love spring as well. Had a nice chat with one of our neighbors, a no-nonsense type of guy. He’s an odd duck. We suspect he and his wife don’t get along, because he seems to go to great lengths to develop handyman projects outside. Our little chat with him gave me some hope, because for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I always thought he was some rightwing nut. But he just said some common-sense stuff tonight — we’ll all get through this if everyone just does what the medical professionals tell us. I like being wrong about people sometimes. This filled me with the hope that the number of idiots in this country is smaller than our media would have us believe, that it’s the squeaky wheel syndrome that compels journalists to point cameras at and put microphones in front of the loudest, most obnoxious morons, but that in truth (I hope) they are really just a tiny minority, that most Americans are still decent, caring, conscientious, compassionate people.
Be well —
April 22, 2020: I have some friends (including my wife) who work in the medical manufacturing world, and they are under intense stress nowadays. This week, I’ve seen some pretty extreme emotional reactions among them. Of course, the emotions among those working directly in the healthcare delivery field must be through the roof — but just noticing how raw nerves are getting across the board.
April 20, 2020: The protests scare me. Several people, historians who had studied the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 included, predicted there would be this kind of unrest. People are afraid, the news every night is terrifying, and they feel powerless, trapped in their homes. Demagogues have harnessed that fear and people think this is some sort of civil rights issue. It is, as John the Younger put it, a no-holds barred primal war of microscopic organisms against vertebrates. We are fighting for our lives. I understand the fear and the hardship — but this is rank stupidity. I am really f**ing sick and tired of the culture wars, of this whiny cult of victimhood.
Yesterday we had an unusual distraction — a guilty pleasure, actually. My wife had mentioned that the local seasonal ice cream place was open — could that be right? In mid-April? But sure enough, as I passed it on my way to shopping this week, I saw it was open. And so yesterday, while slogging through some school work, she declared: let’s get some ice cream! Off we went. It felt good to drive, actually, if only for a few minutes. It was after 5.00 p.m. and maybe 50 degrees out, with a slight breeze, so I wasn’t sure the place would even be open. But not only was it open, but I underestimated my fellow detainees’ desperation to get out and do something — anything — “normal.” The entire time we were there, there was a constant flow of people coming and going, with a consistent dozen or so cars in the parking lot at all times. The line stretched around to the back, though this was in part because of the need to maintain ten-foot intervals marked on the sidewalk by mats. No cones, only cups, and you had to shout your order to the first window, Then you proceeded to the next window where you had to wait until the staff put your order out and closed the window before you could pick it up. No tables, but we enjoyed just standing in the back lot looking out across the valley, to the hills on the other side of the river. I got vanilla-chocolate soft serve swirl, she got pistachio-coffee. Also, no napkins so I had to endure an encrusted mustache until I got home. I noticed a lot of people were utilizing the place’s full take-out kitchen fare, serving burgers and hot dogs, etc. It was all great fun, but not something we can repeat often, if only for our waistlines, say nothing of COVID-19.
Yesterday I also caved in to the inevitable reality that my barber is closed, and allowed my wife to shave the noggin. Given that I lost most of my hair decades ago, it doesn’t take a Michelangelo of hairstylists to finesse my mane, and she did a decent job. Truth is, I go to my barber as much for the humor and conversation as the buzz cut.
I was stunned when I woke up Saturday ready for yard work, only to be confronted by snow. It was very pretty, actually. Just unexpected in mid-April. But, then, to be fair, I was once waiting for the light on the corner of Transit Road and Genesee Street in Depew, NY in the first week of June, when a snow squall suddenly enveloped the car. S*** happens, I guess.
Be well —
April 18, 2020: I hate masks. But I am wearing them when in public, at least indoors. They fog up my glasses constantly. Very annoying. But, fogged glasses is easier to deal with than an excruciating respiratory death, so I do it.
I note that more and more people are wearing masks, usually home-made ones in all sorts of colors and patterns. A cottage industry has sprung up with mostly women making these masks and either selling or distributing among family and friends. Through various channels we have bought or received a half dozen masks now. The local community boards online had lit up with people selling them, or even just giving them away.
Shopping is becoming a chore, and more items are becoming difficult to get. For us at least, nothing in the way of necessities is unavailable, it’s merely an inconvenience that stuff we’re used to being able to buy whenever we want is now difficult to find: want versus need. But I do fear that over time as supply chains thin out, more critical things will become problematic. It’s not that I fear for us so much; we’ll adapt. We have no choice. And most people will adapt. But there are some who may hit the panic button when they see basic commodities unavailable, and the ugliness may start appearing: rioting, violence, etc. The idiot protesters in Michigan yesterday prompted some of this thinking, people who are listening to ignorant propaganda telling them this can’t possibly really be happening. This fear of social unrest is just wandering in the back of my head. It is a reminder of the extraordinary times we’ve lived through until now, of an unprecedented era of opulence and choice. World War II-style rationing comes to mind as well; our future?
When I’ve been shopping recently, which is about all the social contact we’re getting nowadays, it feels a bit like the George Romero film Dawn of the Dead, when the protagonists who are trapped in a shopping mall during a zombie apocalypse. From a hiding spot they are talking while they’re observing the dead just stumble up and down the mall halls. One of the protagonists asks why the dead have congregated here, and the other responds that maybe because this was the place they felt the most value in life. Ouch.
I caught up (online) quickly with an old colleague and friend this morning who related that she somehow shattered a knee cap, but is being treated remotely by her doctor, with obviously limited capabilities and results. And forget physical therapy. Ouch again.
At least our writers group is still keeping up with meetings. That really helps with morale. People! Human beings!
Otherwise, still writing and reading, enjoying some films. I was planning on some yard work today (and still may) but it is currently snowing outside (note: mid-April). We check up on some old neighbors and do their shopping.
Be well —
April 15, 2020: So later today I will be meeting some local unemployed woman in a nearby business parking lot — for an illicit drug deal? An affair? Some illegal aliens smuggling? For secret files on the Kennedy assassination? Nope. She is making washable fabric face masks on the side, so I’ll be paying her $20 for two. She advertises on a local neighborhood forum. The snowballing consensus among medical professionals is that we ought to wear masks in public, for the foreseeable future. And so I will do so. I am a little concerned; she seemed to be making these masks out of whatever fabric was around her home, like from her curtains or the couch, so I hope I don’t get green plaid or polka dots. Well, function over form.
So my work went through another series of lay offs and reorganization today. There’s nothing like getting a call from the big boss mid-day, and his opening line is, “Um, do you have a few minutes…?” Why yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Luckily for me it was relatively good news, as I’m escaping with a changed job description and a temporarily shaved salary; some colleagues made out much worse.
My publisher contacted me today as well to let me know he’s really in deep financial doo-doo, so the second edition of my book is being postponed, possibly to October. (Quite frankly, I think that’s optimistic.) I expected as much. In the meantime, I’ll do what I do best — I’ll tinker with the manuscript, nipping and tucking, and maybe adding something about more recent events.
I am trying to be more vigilant about exercise and walking. So far so good, though the calf and thigh muscles are complaining. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now but the urgency is on as I saw a claim today from a medical source that so far in the U.S. the leading indicator of a COVID-19-positive person requiring hospitalization is not a pre-existing respiratory illness, but obesity. Yikes.
So far, we are still alive and employed.
Be well —
April 13, 2020: Well, the good news is I feel much better today. Last night I went to bed feeling like complete crap, like someone had tied a brick to my upper respiratory system. I took some Benedryl but it only made a minor dent in how I felt. I’ll admit I was kinda scared when I went to sleep, my concerns being both for my own hide, and how I was going to shield my wife from this. But, I woke up this morning in far better condition. Yesterday was a bright, beautiful spring day, and I spent some time out in the yard, and we went for a walk at one point. Very nice. In fact, now that I recall, it was Easter. Well, buried in all the atmospheric niceness was lots and lots of pollen. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself becoming more susceptible to seasonal allergies. When I was a youngun’ , I had no allergies at all which became a kind of liability as I was the only kid able to work in the top of a hay barn in August, and so that’s where I was deployed each summer. But now, as a fogie, the immune system seems to be showing some cracks, and indeed for some years now, each spring and autumn I get an irritated sinus system and roughed up throat. It’s usually fairly mild, just annoying. Yesterday was much more intense, not sure why. Why do I feel better today? Today was a monsoon day, with New Hampshire getting two inches of rain accompanied by 40-50 mile per hour winds. (The back window really looked like someone was throwing buckets of water at it this afternoon.) In other words, the pollen all got a soaking and my system got a break. I am grateful for the rain revealing what my issue was — something annoying, but minor. On that very relieved note, be well —
April 12, 2020: Today may be the game changer, at least for me. I’m not referring to the fact my wife washed my car clicker in the laundry, and I have to replace that. I woke up with an odd sinus irritation that extended to my eyes. About mid-day I chalked this up to seasonal allergies, which I usually struggle with each spring and autumn. But by the end of the day, I am not so sure. My whole upper respiratory system feels…off. Now, I am not a hypochondriac but you can’t help but panic in times like this. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow but I will completely stop going out for the next two weeks. The more difficult part will be protecting my wife.
Be well —
April 11, 2020: It’s becoming normal to see TV presenters who do live shows present from home, like Shields & Brooks. (Mark Shields’ house looks like mine, cluttered and filled with books. I’m kinda proud.) But David Brooks said something interesting, about the toll this is taking on people’s mental health. In our writers groups we’ve been joking about this, that we’re all introverts and some may not have even noticed there was a shelter-in-place order in effect. But really, this has made me realize what a home-body I am, that I have built a complex mental structure around my home so that I am entirely comfortable spending lots of time here. There is a tiny, pin-prick level awareness in the back of my mind that I’m stuck here, that I can’t (shouldn’t) leave — but I’m surrounded here by my work, by books, by a wonderful yard, by lots of fun films, and all sorts of stuff to do. This has also made me aware of my mental environment, about the realm in my head I’m interacting with when I walk around here, how I’m seeing very different things than what anyone else wandering my home might see — but that’s all another rabbit hole. In any event, though we feel the constraint of not being able to see friends or enjoy restaurants and casual shopping, we are pretty much all set. In the larger context of the world today, we’re doing OK.
And that, in turn (returning to Brooks’ point), has made me aware of the pain of those who have a very different relationship with their home. This includes those who simply have far more active social lives than me, for home home is more of a depository for their stuff while they’re out. And then there are those who’ve lost their jobs. That is terrifying. I’ve read stories of landlords working with tenants or even cancelling rent — but that sort of good will can only go on for so long. We are blessed so far, and both have our jobs (which not only pay the bills but take up some mental room as well, keeping us busy.) Some have claimed the 2008 economic crisis had a profound effect how Millennials see the world; I can only wonder how the younger generations will be shaped by COVID-19 and the resulting economic changes.
And that reminds me of a point John the Elder has made in the past, how people jolted out of their routines sometimes have great difficulty accepting their new reality. They refuse to believe what their eyes are telling them — because they’ve never seen this before, and desperately want to just keep doing things the way they used to. He has described scenes from his ER days where people suddenly confronted with an unexpected emergency — a health issue, a robbery, a car accident — and are paralyzed by the simple inability to accept what’s happening. This is an odd human trait, this weak sense of situational awareness, and I am seeing it at play a lot nowadays. I won’t claim that I myself am above this problem. I want to be able to just do things like pop out to the store to grab something I want, and yet if I imagine someone in the middle of the Bubonic Plague still going to markets for leisure shopping, it sounds insane.
It seems living requires thinking.
Be well —
April 9, 2020: This is my routine now. I went out yesterday to grab a couple things at the local corner food market. Once back in the car I squirted some hand sanitizer into my palm that my wife had put there years ago — the top had long since broken off, so you have to gently push this plastic tube sticking out of the bottle, and it’ll eventually deposit a small blob of 2008-era cleanser in your hands. I made sure to goop-up the steering wheel as well, then off we go.
Upon arriving home, I took the groceries into the kitchen, then washed my hands. Then I grabbed a sanitizing napkin and wiped down the surfaces of the stuff I’d just bought, then let it dry while I wiped down the door knob, door, my car door handle (inside and outside), steering wheel (extensively), the shift knob, my mirror, my GPS screen, and the seat belt clasp. Close and lock the car, go back into the house, clean the table and any surface I touched, and throw the napkin away. Then put the stuff I just bought into the fridge, and commence washing hands again.
And then usually at this point, by touching the water again, I realize I have to go to the bathroom, which will require Round 3 of hand-washing. I’m not going to have any hands left by the time this virus runs its course, just two bloody stumps.
Each evening I use the sanitary napkins to wipe down table and counter surfaces, the parts of the doors we touch, the light switches, the fridge and dishwasher handles, and our security system buttons.
Today was a day of heavy rains so little chance for a walk. I ended up in the basement on the treadmill after work. I’m probably more effective on a treadmill anyway; I just put music on and don’t stop until the music stops. The album ends and I’m a sweaty mess.
On a final and unrelated note, as proof of the psychological damage an American childhood has inflicted upon me, I realized while driving yesterday that I do something ridiculously childish. And I’ve been doing it for years. My car is pretty zippy — not that’s it’s a fast car or anything, but the weight-to-power ratio is such that its little engine can get going pretty quickly, usually faster than other cars at intersections, for instance. I’ve gotten used to being able to zip into traffic or past other cars when I need to maneuver in traffic, like changing lanes. All this becomes a problem when I drive a rental, and realize they can’t move as quickly as I’m used to. Well, when I blast off and leave everybody else in the dust, I feel compelled to blurt out loud, “Meep meep!”
Be well —
April 8, 2020: I am either too short, or poorly proportioned. Pants have never fit me well. I’m used to it, and don’t give it a second thought. When pants fit my waist, they are usually too long. (I’ll point out in my defense that this was true even when I was skinny.) The simple solution is I fold my jeans pant cuffs up. Works like a charm. Except that my wife hates it, claiming I look like Farmer Bob. My poor fashion sense aside, all of this went through my head this morning as I was getting dressed and, yes, rolled my jeans pant cuffs up. I next thought I should take this particular pair of jeans to a tailor I like in Londonderry for some shortening.
And then my next thought was — “Oh, I wonder if she’ll still be open when this is all over?”
That’s become a constant thought process for me in recent weeks, as I ponder normal, everyday activities and routines only to hit that wall and wonder whether a business I like will survive this. I generally try to patronize smaller, local businesses when I can, and so now a whole stream of places I like are going through my head as I imagine the day when this is all over (and I’m hopefully still here), and we can all get back to some normal life. This isn’t so much for my sake (“Where will I find another good tailor?”) but the people whom I’ve gotten to know at those businesses: the guy who repaired my wife’s boot heels, the small engine shop that got my chain saw running again last summer, the farm stands we love, that old guy who owns the small (but packed!) used bookstore in Northwood we discovered last summer, our beloved waitress at the Corner Booth in Halligan’s. Where will these people be when this is all over? Their faces keep popping into my mind as I go about my day and try to plan for that future.
I realized this week that I’ve probably put 30 miles on my car so far this month. I needed a few things today — not desperately, conveniences really — so I decided to take a jaunt to the local corner food shop, to get out a bit (on lunch from work), get some air, and make sure the oil didn’t solidify into a sludge in the car. I still don’t have a mask and felt guilty as I made my way through the place. I felt condemning eyes on me everywhere as I shopped. I was probably just being paranoid, but on some local neighborhood online boards a lot of people have been very critical of anyone they suspect of going out for frivolous reasons, and especially if they’re not wearing a mask. I swear — I’ll wear them once I get my hands on one. This has been the first time this week I’ve left home by car.
I have heard mumbled complaints about MarketBasket’s new policies. A couple folks I’m connected to on FB have said they’ll stop shopping there. I’m kind of torn about that. I understand the need for new rules, but MB’s does seem a bit extreme. The last few times I’ve been in their stores it’s felt like I’m being herded. I don’t like that sensation, but MarketBasket is probably doing the right thing. This is just a reminder of how bound up together our fates are as human beings, how linked and inter-connected we are by all these inter-woven supply chains we’re all dependent on. This is the price of having access to such a big variety of food and products.
Two daffodils poked up this week in the front yard, and a small shrub I wasn’t sure about suddenly showed signs of life today, sprouting pink buds. I see hope in that.
Be well —
April 7, 2020: Starting on a positive note, the oak tree out front is budding, as are several other trees in the yard, and two daffodils have opened. Iris and even day lily sprouts are poking up all over the place. Gonna be a pretty spring. I have inherited my grandfather’s love for field flowers: lillies, black-eyed susans, lupines, columbines, partridgeberry — love ’em all. Heck, I even like dandelions. When chatting last summer with the town DOT head — back when social contact was allowed — he mentioned that New Hampshire is being overrun by an invasive species: sumac trees. He hated the things, but I grew up with them along roadsides and in ditches in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties in southwestern New York. To me, they symbolize the heart of summer. Sorry, I didn’t bring them to New Hampshire, but I welcome them.
Speaking of social contact and town officials, I’m dying to be able to be able to visit the town sewer authority again, because they have this massive, full wall map of the town with each property outlined. It’s from the 1960s, I think. Last time I was there I only vaguely caught sight of my property, but I want to understand better where my back property line is. Behind the house there’s a large woods, but we’ve noticed as we’ve gone walking in the area that several very old, crumbled stone walls snake through the woods. Love to know more about the history of this place. I’ll also have to hit town hall and see what records they have. Also, the right hand back corner of my property is a Highway 66 for local critters of all sides. Per recommendations I have picked up a critter cam, and will be deploying as soon as I figure out how to use it. Videos to ensue. Man, I’ve become a fogey.
In the monthly New Hampshire Writers Project meeting last night — virtual; we miss you Martha — someone mentioned being cooped up and not seeing anyone. The irony for us is that we rarely saw our neighbors (beyond those immediately around us), until now. Now that everyone’s at home and not at work, everyone’s out walking their dogs or just getting some exercise. I’ve never seen so many people in our area. We live on a sizable hill, and I think the only one with a sidewalk in the whole town, so everybody comes here. And that’s fine with me. As we were walking today, a woman we’ve never met was approaching from the opposite direction, and she suddenly blurted out as she approached, “Now everybody hold their breath!” and she dramatically inhaled until her cheeks bulged as she passed by. We laughed. The news gets more and more serious every day, but at least in our experience, everyone (well, most) still have a sense of humor.
We are getting serious about getting masks. Apparently one of my wife’s friends (who also works in medical manufacturing) just took in a shipment of several thousand, so we’ll buy a couple off her. My wife described the specs but I don’t know anything about medical masks. Once procured, I do plan on wearing one while in public when out and about. And, admittedly, I will be trying to curtail the times when I need to go out to public places, for instance only shopping every other week. The yard and my writing will keep me occupied, though I also want to spend more time doing leisure reading. I’m thinking of doing an Asimov marathon this summer.
Be well —
April 4, 2020: People are starting to wear masks increasingly in public. A week or so ago it was mostly older people — I still flatter myself that I don’t fit into that category — and the most vulnerable, but now increasingly I’m seeing a broader cross section of people wearing masks. I saw an older gentleman today in Shaw’s wearing a military gas mask. (I have a West German Bundeswehr gas mask from the 1980s here somewhere. I wonder if the filter is still good…?) I was in New York for work the first week of February, and back then corona virus was some foreign problem. In Midtown Manhattan there were Chinese people in the streets wearing cloth masks, and it was a little unsettling. I’d seen many Asians wearing masks on TV and in news reports, but seeing them in person on the streets of New York, when nobody else around them was wearing any, just felt odd. You can feel things are getting serious now. People are more serious about maintaining distance. Well, good. It needs to be this way. My wife and I talked today about wearing masks. I rarely leave the house nowadays (well, outside the property, anyway), but she goes to work every day. I do leave a couple times a week, and would wear a mask — if they can be found.
We’re finally getting a string of nice days (weather-wise), so starting tomorrow I can start tackling some yard projects. My wife delivered some groceries this morning for an old neighbor of ours from when we lived in the condo. He’s 81 and terrified to go out. He wouldn’t come out to meet her (he waved through the window); she left the groceries on his porch and left. We are fully provisioned up, and are fine. (This is due to my Buffalo upbringing; every Buffalonian keeps enough basic supplies in storage for at least two weeks. You just assume that you’ll lose power and be snowed in for at least a week.) So in a sense, we’ve been hoarding for years, just spreading it out over time so that now all I need buy each week are some perishables.
In the larger sense, we (my wife and I) are doing fine, and pretty well set up. But as I’ve said, I am constantly fighting a rearguard action against this tide of fear that constantly threatens to overwhelm me. Luckily, there’s plenty to do (besides work) and we are stocked with writing projects, books, DVDs, music, and yard work. As I said, we’re fine. But as we keep seeing the stories each night on the news of younger people struck down by this, and I can’t help but think: why them, and not me? It’s like bobbing up and down on the ocean’s surface, treading water far from shore, and occasionally someone gets grabbed by something deadly beneath the surface. Nobody knows why it chooses which victims.
But today we live. Be well —
April 2, 2020: A month or so ago I joked that we would have to change the calendar, to “BC19” and “C19E” — “Before C-19” and “In the C-19 Era.” But this really has become a game changer, something that is redefining the world we live in.
Marketbasket has initiated new policies whereby only a certain number of people are allowed in stores at a time. When that number is reached, everyone else has to wait outside, at 6 foot intervals marked by blue tape. One woman today became testy when she stood directly behind the person in front of her, and had to be reminded to back up to the tape. I admit I reacted with anger when I saw her, but in truth it’s just habit. I also find myself doing things the way I’ve always done them, and have to remember (or be reminded) that things are different now. Once inside, a Marketbasket employee sprays a cart down with disinfectant, and gives it to you — and you’re on your way. Stores are keeping themselves stocked, while also engaging in huge cleaning exercises each night. On the whole, today’s incident notwithstanding, spirits seem to be high and people are decent to one another. I think boredom is the primary challenge now. As David Brooks observes, fear is coming, hopefully not to devolve into panic. I don’t want to find myself in a Lord of the Flies show, and so I am particularly mindful of being kind and patient as I interact with people.
Yesterday, an old high school friend who has had a pretty rough year, including a divorce, suddenly posted on Facebook that she was getting married. This set off all sorts of alarm bells, including in my mind, and I could see many of her friends very gently inquiring about this sudden news, being very delicate and careful not to reveal the concern we all felt — only to have her respond at day’s end that it was April 1st: April Fools, fools! Totally forgot, and the news in general has been so dire recently, we all just lost sight of humor. Thanks for the laugh, Vick —
My wife is working much more, which has me worried. But, as always, we have to be happy to have jobs. She left at 5.00 this a.m., and hopes to be home before 9.00 p.m. Welcome to the new economy. I was reading some reports that prophesied a slaughter of smaller businesses and even greater market dominance and concentration for mega-businesses. Unless the Federal government takes action, we will enter a new Dark Ages of monopolies; we’re already 2/3 of the way there. Paging Teddy Roosevelt.
The news is indeed becoming more and more dire. For us, the real impact has so far been marginal, more in the way of annoying than life-altering, but we’re very aware of others suffering. On the positive side, it’s nice to walk around and see the neighbors working in their yards, taking on projects long relegated to clipboards and the proverbial rainy day.
Addendum: I should mention that the constant hand-washing has really done brutal things to my delicate, supple skin. I normally suffer from eczema in the cold months, and the skin on my hands just naturally dries and cracks. Once, while waiting in line in Dallas-Ft Worth Airport, a cop approached me and asked if I needed medical treatment. I asked why, and he pointed down; the skin on my knuckles had dried and cracked, and I’d bled, leaving a 4″-wide puddle on the floor. (My apologies to the airport cleaning staff.) But this eczema usually goes away when the daily temps consistently hit 50 degrees or more. We’re in that part of spring that is borderline, with some days in the 50s and 60s, but nights in the 30s. Well, regardless, this year my constant hand-washing has thrown the whole system off. I have dried cracks everywhere on my hands. Often I’m not even aware this is happening (reference the Dallas anecdote) but now it is painful, and these cracks are developing in places where it is hard to set and heal. By now I think my hands are just balls of that liquid band-aid stuff. I’m just using regular hand soap, not any fancy kill-all-microbes desanitizers. A minor complaint, but ouch, dammit.
Be well —
March 31, 2020: The state released town-by-town data yesterday, revealing that between 1 and 4 cases have been confirmed in my dinky little town. This isn’t surprising because while small, it is really — even this far north — a suburb of Boston, or of eastern Massachusetts. This is what they call a “bedroom community,” a nice and scenic town that people come home to every day after working someplace else. In other words, the jobs are mostly somewhere else. This was an old mill town once, one of the Merrimack River textile towns that had so many immigrants a century ago that one contemporary source complained the town was essentially Francophone. Well, this is all to say that every day a large portion of the town travels to more populous southern New Hampshire or Massachusetts for work, which brings them into contact with a lot more people. I guess I’m grateful that only 1-4 locals are (confirmed) infected so far. I just read a new analysis that claims New Hampshire should expect to lose 350-400 people from this crisis. To date 3 people have died from COVID-19 in New Hampshire, all apparently people with other, severe medical issues.
Something scary happened this week, something I’ve quietly feared for a while. In Hungary, the wanna-be authoritarian president, Viktor Orbán, has made his move. Up until now he has used intimidation and fraud to win elections, and much the same to get his way with the Hungarian Parliament, but he’s at least felt constrained by this democratic window dressing to play by (some of) the rules. But no longer; this week he used the excuse of the CODID-19 crisis to get Parliament to give him extraordinary powers to rule by decree “for the duration of the crisis.” This crisis may present a lot of authoritarian-minded rulers an excuse to seize more power. Beware. I fear for an old friend, my old Hungarian language teacher, actually, who has been elected to a seat on the Budapest city council for the opposition. He’s been very vocal in his criticism of the Orbán regime — dangerous behavior nowadays.
So what does the world look like in Week 3 of this crisis? I see a lot of bored, furloughed neighbors out walking their dogs. So far it’s all been very friendly, and everybody waves. On the local online neighborhood discussion boards, people are reaching out to help neighbors. The local police ran a food drive for the unemployed. My wife burst out laughing when she saw a TV commercial from Angel Soft promising they were increasing their production capacity to pump up the supply of toilet paper. Seriously? When I picked up my prescription this morning, I had to stand at 6 feet intervals (marked by blue tape on the floor) in the line up to the pharmacy window. There’s a nice local corner food shop that’s been functioning pretty much as usual through all this (so far), with the exception of a 2-roll limit on toilet paper purchases, and a large plexi-glass screen erected at registers to prevent cashier and customer from breathing on one another. (I joked with a fellow customer in line, 6 feet behind me, that this would be a great idea for teenage dating. She loved it, but suggested teenagers themselves might be less enthusiastic.) I know a lot of local businesses have closed — hopefully temporarily — but the impact hasn’t really made itself felt yet because some of them were seasonal anyway.
We have also been walking around the area. My wife has taken up as a new hobby trying to pin down the identity of a local ghost house. Essentially, in the evenings from our back window, the lights of three windows on a house can be seen through the woods — but there’s no house there. We walk that route constantly, and each time try to figure out what the lights could be. We’ve looked at them with a telescope, which gave me one idea, that they may be a combination of large rocks and possibly snow reflecting light from street lights. But gal-durn it, if it doesn’t look each evening as if there’s a house not far behind our own home — when we know there’s nothing but woods for miles.
Be well —
March 29, 2020: Every day the news becomes more serious. When I was a student in Hungary sometime in the late 80s or first half of the 90s, I can distinctly remember the look of disgust a visiting American professor gave me when I confessed I hadn’t known anyone who had died of AIDs. He was from CUNY and was surrounded by people afflicted, but I just didn’t know anyone who had AIDs, or at least had told me they had AIDs. His look made it clear he considered me a provincial yokel, living under some rock. Apparently my circumstances haven’t changed because so far, COVID-19 has similarly been an abstract experience; I don’t know anyone personally who has caught the virus. And I’m OK with that; I know plenty of people (including my parents) who fall into higher risk categories. Ignorance is bliss, if selfish.
Actually, I’m wondering if I haven’t already had COVID-19, in milder form. Back in January my wife brought home from work (where she comes into daily contact with manufactured materials from all over the world, including China) a very nasty respiratory cold that was hard to shake, with a cough that lasted a good month after the other symptoms ended. We both ended up with this thing. I’ve never smoked and rarely have respiratory problems beyond colds, but this thing really hung on. I’ve never had pneumonia or bronchitis, for instance. We both also had gotten our flu shot back in November or so. We didn’t have the sore back that some people describe, but it oddly remained fixated on our respiratory systems, not bothering with the digestive symptoms that often accompany colds and flus. I do recall a very mild temperature one of the early nights. Well about two weeks after the main symptoms ended I attended the Flash Fiction, thinking that I was long past being contagious, and met several other fellow sufferers who had had the same malady, and all apparently thought like me they were now safe for social contact. We were wrong. The very next day several others who attended reported the immediate onset of some nasty symptoms. My apologies. But one wonders.
Anyway, as another week passes, the truth is I’m used to isolation and kind of like it. I do have to do some footwork to keep the wife from going stir crazy, but I go into project mode. As spring approaches, I need to make a wooden mount for new house numbers for out front, and — proof I’m entering my fuddy-duddy stage — I’m planning a series of bird houses for the back yard. I dream of making a purple martin hotel some day. On a more serious level, I note the back porch needs attention, and I have to fill in some mortar around the stone foundation. And the garage needs better organizing…
Be well —
March 27, 2020: “Hey dude, love your shirt!” That’s what I heard when leaving the store yesterday, on my way out. That sort of thing would normally make my wife cringe — she hates my tie-dyed shirts — but she was not with me. It was a nice injection of normalcy in an abnormal situation. I was doing my weekly shopping, and as soon as I walked in the front door I went on autopilot. That entails wandering up and down each aisle with a list, finding my stuff, and getting out. But I’m always amazed by supply chains and pay attention to where everything comes from. So there I am, after work, just doing my weekly shopping routine, but also carefully not panicking. Some people were; they had loaded their carts with all sorts of crap they likely will be throwing out in a couple weeks. But I just focused on getting what I needed for this week. I’ll be back next week. And so I settled in to a nice, leisurely stroll down the aisles, exchanging niceties with folks along the way.
Until, that is, the announcement came over the store speakers that the place was closing in 15 minutes. It was quarter to six p.m. on a Thursday night. Well, this was new. Admittedly, I ignored a bunch of crimson-font signs on the way in, assuming they all said things like don’t kiss anybody, and only two rolls of toilet paper allowed per customer — but apparently I’d missed the one saying the store closed at 6.00 p.m. on a week night. I’m not sure what the logic behind that was. One fellow shopper in the long lines at the registers speculated it was to allow time to re-stack shelves, but seriously — I was a stockboy when I was 14 years old, and it wouldn’t have taken me all night to do that place. So what ensued upon the announcement was a mad dash as all of us, yours truly included, suddenly had just 15 minutes to grab what we needed and get out. It was a great way to induce a panic. And they got one. Maybe the idea was that cutting store hours would discourage hoarding? If so, it seems to me that there are more effective ways to do that.
In any event, this all added up to me being quite flustered and frustrated by the time I did get through the registers, and so it was a pleasant surprise to have someone suddenly inject some sense of normalcy back into my life with the compliment about the shirt. Thank you, Sir, wherever you are.
On a side note, my father reminded me of an old 1970s Pat McManus story about a guy trapped in a mountain cabin during a blizzard that I need to dig up. Pat McManus is a great antidote for cabin fever — well, for anything, really.
Be well —
March 26, 2020: Went to the bank today and had to do the drive-through. (Bank lobbies are closed.) I haven’t done that in decades. I have to admit it was fun, playing with the pneumatic tube. I could also tell the over-worked teller was not impressed with my childhood sense of wonderment with 20th century technologies.
I next moved on to a local supermarket for a couple things, and found myself standing and cleaning my hands vigorously at the sanitizer stations they’ve set up by the entrances. This whole experience has made me much more aware of my relationship with surfaces, and I’ve developed a sort of tactile sensitivity recently. I have taken the approach friends from India taught me years ago, of a dirty (left) hand and a clean (right) hand, so there’s a division of labor between my hands as far as how I interact with my environment. When I was standing in line, the cashier cracked a joke with the customers in front of me, two women in their forties or so, about the need for such extreme precautions. One woman burst into laughter, while her companion did so more slowly, looking at her, finally commenting, “I know why she’s laughing.” The first woman nodded and mentioned she’s been a life-long extreme germophobe; the rest of the world is just now catching up to her lifestyle.
My trip to the food store took place over lunch so the store was relatively empty, but people were still civil. Both today and before I’ve seen examples of store managers having to firmly explain why there are limits on some items, as some people are still in hoard mode. (One article I read this morning written by a banking analyst said bluntly, there’s enough toilet paper. We know this because there was no shortage before COVID-19, and there’s nothing about COVID-19 that requires people to use more toilet paper than usual. Clearly toilet paper-hoarding is just a panic reaction.) But on the whole, civilization seems to keep plodding forth. I am grateful for that.
I did catch while in a small, local food place yesterday that even they have taken to hiring extra stock people for the night shifts recently. Apparently Marketbasket, Shaws and others have all been doing this, so that behind the scenes at night when stores close there’s been a massive effort to restock shelves, both to simply keep supplies flowing but also (I suspect with some nudging by state authorities) to fend off any panic: people can walk into these food stores at any time and see the shelves (mostly) full, as usual, which is a kind of reassurance. Imagine walking into your local food store and seeing the shelves ransacked and empty, and knowing you still had another month of quarantine…
We are concerned about our neighbors. I notice one is working in his yard a lot this week, and I haven’t seen he other go to work recently. We are blessed with good neighbors; I hope their finances hold out.
March 25, 2020: In this space I’ll be sharing some thoughts, stirrings and observations about my experience of the isolation we’re all living with under the threat of COVID-19. These are extraordinary times, and we’re all struggling to adjust to new normals. I’ve read many times about the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, so it is terrifying to see something similar happening now, today, in my lifetime. On the news tonight they showed a new temporary morgue being constructed in the parking lot of some hospital in New York, which reminded me of pictures from 1918 of coffins stacked high on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, NY.
In a sense, I’m grateful for this experience. It helps me understand the fear and sense of helplessness people must have felt a century ago, of how we have to hope the people in charge know what they’re doing. The buffoon who gets all the news coverage surely does not, but others have risen to the occasion. I also appreciate being jolted out of my routines, and reminded of our shared humanity. Quite frankly, with the way our politics has been going recently, I am particularly grateful for something that transcends the noise and reminds us (if brutally) what in life is really important. As a historian, I am also intrigued by how our many overlapping systems work and interact; disruption like this reveals what is connected to what, and what they all mean to us.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t…concerned. No, scared. Shitless. This is a disease that has behaved in some unpredictable ways, leaving some with an annoying joint ache and others with severely damaged lungs — and worse. I am in a lower risk category, but I’m a life form highly susceptible to COVID-19 like all my fellow humans, and have no idea how my body will react. And then there’s my wife, who works in what has been deemed an essential industry just this week, and must report in every day she can… Family, friends; it’s like we’re trapped in a horror film where some silent killer stalks among us. And I worry about the economic impact as well. In a bizarre irony, my company finds itself in an unusually stable moment, and may actually weather this. But so many others are not so lucky. One of my favorite local restaurants closed last Friday, and told me they weren’t sure if they’ll be able to reopen.
For the moment, it seems people are taking things in stride and being civil. My occasional forays to the supermarket or for other local needs have so far been pretty pleasant experiences, actually. People joke, share anecdotes, and give each other some room. I’ve seen some of the panic hoarding, but not not as much as is reported on the news. I get it — they’re scared, and there’s this impulse to just do something. I worry that panic may spread as this draws out. David Brooks commented about the 1918-1919 influenza crisis, that many tried afterward to blot it from their memory — not just because of the horrors of seeing so many die, but also because they were so ashamed of how they’d behaved to their neighbors and strangers in moments of stressed-out rage and panic. We haven’t seen that yet, but this crisis is still in its early stages. On tonight’s news some experts projected the peak for New York’s unfolding horror as being at best a few weeks in the future still.
I plan to continue to add to this so long as this crisis endures, and encourage others to do the same — either consider starting their own online journals, hopefully here on the WFoD blog, or even just add their thoughts and experiences to this column alongside mine.